@WaterLawReview: 50th Anniversary of the 1969 Act Symposium of the University Of Denver Water Law Review, April 4-5, 2019

At the University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Thursday, April 4, 2019 – 4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
(Dinner Served)
Friday, April 5, 2019 – 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
(Continental Breakfast and Lunch Served)

Offered for 12 General CLE Credits

The Volume 22 Water Law Review Symposium will take place April 4 and 5, 2019, at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. We are dedicating this symposium to the 50th Anniversary of the 1969 Water Rights Determination and Administration Act. The symposium will be slightly different from years past. The symposium and the spring issue will work in tandem, with select topics and papers from the symposium being published in a “spring plus” issue.
The theme for the symposium is the past, present, and future of the 1969 Act. The past section includes topics related to the history of the 1969 Act, the Act’s implementation, and some of the major changes and decisions that have shaped the current state of water law in Colorado. The present section focuses on current programs and major issues and questions that practitioners are grappling with. The future portion looks at issues that Colorado and the water community might encounter as we head into the next 50 years of water law.

This celebration of the 1969 Act is organized and made possible by the generosity and support of the Sturm College of Law, the Colorado Supreme Court, and Colorado Bar Association CLE.

Thursday, April 4 – 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Locaton: The Sie Building: Josef Korbel School of International Studies – Maglione Hall

Pioneers of the Act
This panel leads off celebrating pioneers and key provisions of the 1969 Act.
Panel: Ken Wright, David Harrison, Bill Hillhouse, Jim Witwer, and Justice Greg Hobbs (Moderator)

6:15 – Dinner

7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Vignettes About Practicing Under the Act
This panel continues the celebration with vignettes from water professionals who spent a career interacting with the statutory scheme.
Panel: Dick Wolfe, Carolyn Burr, David Robbins, and Kole Kelley (Moderator)

Friday, April 5
Location: DU Sturm College of law Room 165

8:30 a.m. – Welcome and Opening Remarks
Kole Kelley, Dean Bruce Smith, and Professor Tom Romero II

9:00 a.m.
Integrating Groundwater and Surface Water
This panel discusses the integration of ground water and surface water. Steve Leonhardt will discuss plans for augmentation under the 1969 Act; Andy Jones and Tom Cech will discuss the well crisis along the South Platte; and Bill Paddock will discuss the implementation of the 1969 Act in Division 3, with David Robbins (Moderating)

10:25 – Break

10:35 a.m.
How About the Environment?
This panel will discuss the environmental considerations handled under the 1969 Act. Linda Bassi will discuss instream flow rights; Dan Luecke will be discussing National Environmental Policy Act and the Two Forks veto; and Trisha Oeth and Jen Mele will be discussing the intersection between water quality and water rights. Amy Beatie (Moderating)

Noon – Lunch

1:00 p.m.
Engineering a Water Case and Ethical Considerations
This panel will discuss the ethical considerations of dealing with water engineers, how to engineer a water case, and the ethical considerations engineers go through while handling a water case.
Panel: Mark Palumbo, Steve Wittie, Cristy Radabaugh, Joe Tom Wood, and Kevin Rein (Moderating/Participant)

2:45 p.m. – Break

3:00 p.m.

The Future of Water Law and the Pro Se Party
This panel is composed of five people that all have very different perspectives. For the future of water, the panel will discuss the day-to-day workings of the water court process (from Referee Susan Ryan’s perspective), ways to improve the process for engineers on the witness stand (from Eric Harmon’s perspective), the pro se party and what water law looks like from the law student perspective (from Lindsey Ratcliff’s perspective), the water law professor’s perspective (from Professor Tom Romero II’s perspective), and the beginning practitioner perspective (from Whitney Phillip’s perspective). Referee Susan Ryan (Moderating/ Participant)

Adjourn – 4:30 p.m.

For questions, please contact
Kole Kelley at kkelley19@law.du.edu

#Runoff/#Snowpack news: In the #AnimasRiver Valley highs in the 60s and plenty of solar radiation have kicked off the snowmelt season

Screen shot of the USGS Water Watch streamflow map for Colorado March 30, 2019.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

A water gauge on the Animas River near the Powerhouse Science Center saw levels rise from 300 cubic feet per second Monday to more than 700 cfs as of Friday afternoon.

Water levels came close, but not close enough, to a previous high for March 29 set in 1916 of 1,100 cfs. The water gauge near the Powerhouse has 108 years of records.

Throughout the past week, daytime highs have lingered in the mid-60s, prompting the first round of snowmelt and runoff…

But early next week, Kormos said temperatures will rise once again, and the river along with it. By late next week, the center calls for the Animas River to exceed 1,000 cfs, though Kormos noted forecasts that far out are difficult to predict.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel river basins are at 161 percent of historic, normal averages as of Wednesday, the latest available data. Those snow totals, however, are taken from weather stations placed in high elevations…

The rise in water and promise of a sustained spring runoff is a welcome sight to members of the boating community, especially after one of the lowest water years on record in 2018.

#SaltonSea: “It is a disaster in the making, yet it is an afterthought’ — The Los Angeles Times #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Here’s an editorial from The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

California’s largest internal body of water is steadily drying up, exposing a lake bed that threatens to trigger toxic dust storms and exacerbate already high levels of asthma and other respiratory diseases in Southern California.

Yet there is something about the Salton Sea that leads many lawmakers to ignore the urgency and put off remediation programs. It’s just so far south — off the mental map of officials who represent more densely populated urban areas to the north, like Los Angeles. It is hydrologically unconnected to the Bay Area and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which supplies water for so much of the state’s agricultural and residential use. It is a disaster in the making, yet it is an afterthought.

That attitude is understandably galling to residents of the adjacent Imperial Valley, who are (for now) the ones most affected by the increasing dust and who have witnessed firsthand the degrading ecological conditions. They have heard officials promise repeatedly to fix this catastrophe by creating wetlands that moisten the exposed bed and sustain an ecosystem that continues to support migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. They have repeatedly seen those promises broken.

The dimensions of the failure were for many years merely theoretical, but they became real in the winter just past. As the rain and snow washed away drought and at least temporarily diminished environmental problems in the rest of the state, the contraction of the Salton Sea accelerated. Increasing salinity kept the lake from sustaining even the salt-hardy tilapia. The birds failed to appear…

That leaves a shrinking lake, lots of broken promises and a looming disaster. Both California and the feds have to do better than this — especially if they want to encourage agreements such as the one that makes Imperial Valley farmers more water-wise while keeping San Diego residents from deep rationing. The Salton Sea is not going away, even if it goes away. It can become a wetland and wildlife preserve, or it can become — if we let it — a health and ecological catastrophe.

“@GOP in Washington refuse to treat #climatechange as a serious issue” — @SenatorBennet #ActOnClimate

Nebraska state officials flew over the flood-ravaged Spencer Dam on March 16, 2019. The Niobrara River had been running at 5 or 6 feet of gage height before it broke through the 90-year-old dam early on March 14, 2019. After that, an 11-foot wave rolled through. Photo credit: State of Nebraska

From The Colorado Independent (Robin Bravender):

Rebuffed on climate change by their Republican colleagues, Senate Democrats — including Colorado’s Michael Bennet — are launching their own committee to tackle the issue.

After Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused an attempt by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to create a bipartisan special climate change committee in the chamber, Democrats on Wednesday announced that they would assemble their own panel to hold hearings and issue findings on climate change.

Bennet is one of 10 Senate Democrats on the Special Committee on the Climate Crisis that will be led by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“For many reasons — most of all, the corruption of money in our politics — Republicans in Washington refuse to treat climate change as a serious issue,” Bennet said in a statement. “Our children’s future can’t become another casualty of Washington’s mindless partisanship. We need to construct enduring solutions to climate change, and this committee is a step forward in accomplishing that goal.”

Senate Democrats formally announced the creation of the new special committee at a press conference Wednesday morning, the day after Senate Republicans uniformly opposed the adoption of Democrats’ sweeping Green New Deal resolution to combat climate change. Most Senate Democrats, including Bennet, voted “present” on the measure, which they dubbed a “sham” vote aimed at dividing Democrats on the issue.

The panel will serve as a messaging platform for Democrats, but it won’t have any legislative authority. A select committee on climate change that was launched by House Democrats this year also doesn’t have legislative authority, but it does have Republican members.

Also on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse joined other House Democrats in unveiling climate legislation aimed at preventing the United States from following through on President Trump’s promise to exit the Paris climate treaty.

The measure also calls for the president to issue a public plan for the country to achieve an economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that are 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

“The administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and halt progress being made forward is severely detrimental to the planet and to the next generation,” Neguse said at a press conference announcing the bill.

“We are the only country to reject this global pact. We can and we must do better. Now is not the time for ignorance, it is not the time for shortcuts, it is the time for action. We must act and we must act on climate now.”

Neguse, a freshman, was appointed to the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) created this Congress.

Pelosi said Wednesday that this bill is “only step one,” and that action on climate change is a Congress-wide initiative and a moral issue. In 2009, under her leadership, the House passed sweeping climate legislation that ultimately died in the Senate.

“If you do believe, as I do, that this is God’s creation, this planet, we have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of it,” she said. “But even if you don’t subscribe to that, you know we have a moral responsibility to future generations to pass on this planet in a responsible, responsible way.”

Photo of Lake Powell in extreme drought conditions by Andy Pernick, Bureau of Reclamation, via Flickr creative commons

Streamflow On The Crystal, LOCC Carbondale Short Film — CIRESVideos

Why is the Crystal River significant and what would happen if it dried up? LOCC students look into the importance of this river to the people of Carbondale. This film was made by students in Carbondale, Colorado during summer 2018.

Learn more: http://cires.colorado.edu/outreach/LOCC

#Drought/#Snowpack news:

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Three months after a quarter of the state had been in the worst drought conditions, only a small part of Colorado remains in even moderate drought according to the most recent report from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 26, 2019.

Since February, a series of storms systems have brought significant snow, particularly to southwest Colorado where extreme and exceptional drought – the two worst categories – had been entrenched for months. River basins in the area started the year at 70 to 80 percent of the median snow water equivalent. They now stand at 150 percent or greater, with the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin at 161 percent as of March 27.

Statewide snowpack basin-filled map March 27, 2019 via the NRCS.

Moderate drought remains across all but small portion of Costilla county. Western Huerfano and southwest Las Animas counties are also impacted by moderate drought.

The southern half of Archuleta County, along with slivers of southern La Plata and Montezuma counties are also in moderate drought.

Abnormally dry conditions continued to fall back across the state, now affecting only south central and southwest counties.

Overall, 75 percent of Colorado is drought-free, up from 54 percent one week ago. Twenty percent is abnormally dry, down from 40 percent. Moderate drought impacts five percent of the state, down from six percent. Severe drought fell to zero from one percent. Extreme and exceptional conditions exited the state earlier in the year.

Colorado Drought Monitor March 19, 2019.

Across the state, snow water equivalent stood at 140 percent, with all basis reporting 124 of the median or greater.

#Snowpack news: Roaring Fork SWE ~50% above average

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 28, 2019 via the NRCS.

2019 #COleg: Budget bill (SB19-207: FY 2019-20 Long Bill) amendment allocates $106 million to roads

Colorado River Road. Once you get on it, it’s hard to get off. Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Charles Ashby):

Senators from both sides of the aisle agreed to an amendment to the state’s $30.5 billion annual state spending plan that would divert more money to roads and bridges. Such amendments to the budget bill, particularly one this large, are rare.

That happened during debate over, SB19-207, the state’s annual budget. Initially, the bill called for spending only $30 million in general fund money on transportation, funding that was on top of $200 million already allocated to transportation projects.

But in a deal between Republicans and Democrats reached earlier in the day, transportation projects now may see additional money.

“What this amendment will do is make a slightly less increase (to all departments) and find a way to take this $106 million and put it into transportation,” said House Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “I’m grateful to those who have been involved in the conversation.”


The bill still requires a final Senate vote, which is to come today.

It then will head to the House for more debate. Whether that money will stay in the final version of the bill remains to be seen.

From the Associated Press via The Aurora Sentinel:

Colorado’s Senate has approved a draft $30.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The Senate voted 29-6 on Thursday to send the legislation to the House Appropriations Committee.

At Republicans’ insistence, senators agreed on Wednesday to divert $106 million to transportation needs from other programs. That brings to $336 million the proposed budget’s total transportation funding.

Colorado’s backlog for new transportation projects and repairs is an estimated $9 billion.

The budget document includes funding for full-day kindergarten for school districts and families that want it. Colorado now guarantees half-day funding.

U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife hearing recap #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification #snowpack #drought

The Colorado River, between Loma and Westwater. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Representatives from all seven Colorado River Basin states testified before the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, detailing the years of hard work, compromise and negotiations that went into forging the plans that will be the operational foundation for the river through 2026…

Testimony came the same day the U.S. Drought Monitor released updated drought conditions across the United States, showing marked improvement in many of the basin states, including California — which is virtually drought free — and Utah, which sits with just 3.24 percent of its land mass in moderate drought.

West Drought Monitor March 26, 2019.

That sliver of land is minuscule compared to where Utah sat just three months ago with drought conditions — with 99.96 percent of its land mass classified in moderate drought.

Rep. Tom McClintock, R-California, and several others cautiously acknowledged the bountiful nature of this winter’s precipitation, with upper Colorado River snowpack at 127 percent of normal and March rounding out to be one of the wettest ones on record.

“But one good year is no guarantee the 19-year drought is over, and prudence and experience both warn us of the need to be prepared,” McClintock said. “History is desperately warning us to be prepared.”

Brenda Burman, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, said the plans use a variety of tools and measures to implement water savings among the states.

“The drought contingency plans are not designed to keep us out of shortage, they are designed to keep us out of crisis.”

She said savings are possible, pointing to the bureau’s own accomplishment of tightening losses at the Hoover Dam of 100,000 acre-feet in the early 2000s to less than 7,000 acre-feet last year.

“We have overwhelmingly tightened the system,” she said.

James Eklund, Colorado commissioner with the Upper Colorado River Commission, echoed McClintock’s concerns about a good performing water year easing concerns over drought.

“Don’t be misled by the snowpack, the excellent snowpack we have received so far this year. It only demonstrates the wide swings we have to manage moving forward,” he said. “You can put an ice cube, even an excellent ice cube, in a hot cup of coffee but eventually it is going to disappear. But for the 40 million people who depend on this river, it is not an abstraction. This is personal.”

Eric Millis, the Colorado River commissioner for Utah and director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said this year’s snowpack will likely deliver near normal inflows from the Colorado River into Lake Powell.

“It is hard to know, however, if this year will be just one more good year among so many bad ones, ” he told the committee. “It is therefore wise to have a plan and implement actions to help ensure we can keep the system operating in a way that complies with the law of the river and protects water users and the environment.”

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

On Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who crafted it. One of them, Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, called on the committee and Congress to take “urgent action” and authorize it as soon as possible.

Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would allow the federal government to carry out the plan. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., who chaired the subcommittee, vowed action “as soon as possible.”

Buschatzke and the other officials stressed the short timeline they have tofinish work on the plan, a product of years of long and tense negotiations that crossed state and party lines.

“It is a plan … to address the ongoing drought in the lower Colorado River Basin that began nearly two decades ago and has no end in sight,” Buschatzke said to the committee…

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., one of the many Arizona representatives at the hearing, asked U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman how the plan complies with environmental standards, which he called the impetus for moving the plan forward.

Burman explained that a careful balance was found between stakeholders and water officials to help ensure any cuts would not harm wildlife that lives in or near the river.

Grijalva said the legislation, which he plans to introduce early next week, has support from all seven basin states and that it respects environmental laws.

He also said he has made a commitment to Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., to deliver possible solutions for stakeholders who were displeased with the exclusion of the Imperial Irrigation District, which objected to the plan’s failure to fully address problems with the Salton Sea.

Grijalva was joined by Arizona Reps. David Schweikert, Debbie Lesko, Andy Biggs, Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, all of whom lauded the deal as a rare bipartisan accomplishment and recognized the work from the state’s tribal communities.

Thursday was the water deal’s second test on Capitol Hill, coming a day after a Senate subcommittee, chaired by McSally, R-Ariz., similarly endorsed the plan. McSally echoed Buschatzke and the other officials who stressed the short timeline they have, saying she and other senators will take swift action.

“Now that the states have completed their work, it’s time for Congress to take it across the finish line,” McSally said on Wednesday, adding that she and other senators are working to finalize the language of their version of a bill to enact the plan, which could be introduced as soon as Thursday.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, joined McSally in celebrating a huge first step, one of many standing in the way of enacting the plan. Sinema released a statement on Wednesday following the Senate hearing and said she was “proud to continue the legacy of water policy leadership in Arizona.”

Congress has until April 22 to pass the plan, a deadline set by the water leaders

While mostly optimistic, Burman also gave the committee a glimpse into what might happen if the federal government fails to do its part

“While shortages are likely part of the lower basin’s future, none of the lower basin states or Mexico can afford to allow a true crisis of water supply to develop,” Burman said to the House panel.

“Simply put, if lake Mead were to decline to elevations before 1,020 feet …this would leave us without a full year supply,” she said.

Even with recent storms and a promising snowpack in the Rockies, Burman said one good year won’t fix the underlying issues of drought. Lawmakers, she said, need to recognize the reality and authorize the plan so states like Arizona can breathe a little easier.

Stanton, D-Ariz., one of the lawmakers on the panel, is the former mayor of Phoenix, a city that gets almost 40 percent of its water from the river. Stanton, who often worked closely with Buschatzke, said he understood how much work has gone into finding a compromise for a critically important plan…

Stanton pointed to climate change as one of the larger reasons why the American desert Southwest is in this dire situation.

“Make no mistake, one of the primary reasons we are here today is climate change,” Stanton said, adding that Arizona and other Southwestern states are in the midst of a historic drought that is projected to worsen…

Burman alsostressed that water officials in the basin states will have to begin work soon on a long-range agreement.

“What (the plan) is going to do is give us that space for us … to work together on what is the next step,” Burman said. Buschatzke echoed Burman and said this temporary plan is just a bridge and that he didn’t know what could come of those future negotiations.

If nothing is done, Buschatzke and the other officials fear a crisis could cripple the sustainable growth of cities and their economies, negatively affect the wildlife that depends on the river and bring many other unforeseen consequences. The river, they said, is the lifeblood for 40 million people, millions of acres of farmland and a significant source of hydropower.

Biggs, R-Ariz., underlined that a reliable source of water is an economic necessity for the state, which he said has been a national and international leader in water conservation.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

The South Platte: an Urban River and Critical Watershed — Urban Waters Learning Network

The South Platte River runs by a utility plant near I-25 in Denver.

From the Urban Waters Learning Network (Maria Brodine):

Like many American cities, Denver grew up on the banks of its local river, the South Platte. In May 1858, in Cheyenne and Arapaho territory, a small party of settlers set off the Colorado Gold Rush when they turned up gold at the mouth of Little Dry Creek. The resulting trading and mining encampment, located at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, is now marked by the sprawling Confluence Park, nestled in the heart of Denver and offering a variety of recreation opportunities for city dwellers, including biking, kayaking, and fishing.

The Platte’s headwaters emerge in the South Park highland meadow basin, then flow north and east through several major reservoirs. Just after entering the Chatfield Reservoir and State Park, it flows through the outlying cities of Littleton and Englewood before entering Denver city limits. By the time it reaches the Confluence at Denver’s heart, it has already picked up a number of pollutants from point and non-point sources, including stormwater runoff from nearby buildings. For the past 15 years, regular water quality testing at the Confluence and at other sites have revealed high levels of E coli bacteria, especially during the summer. Drought years—such as 2017, when the river was too low to support the normal popular tubing activities—exacerbate these problems, as nutrients and other pollutants build up and deplete oxygen levels. To add to these challenges, Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in America. Rapid development, trying to keep pace with the burgeoning population and industrial growth, has added to the burden of polluted stormwater runoff and put additional pressures on the low-income, underserved, and indigenous communities that already feel the brunt of local environmental and economic challenges.

The South Platte Urban Waters Partnership

In total, the South Platte watershed drains 28,000 square miles on its way to the Missouri River; includes one million acres of public lands; is home to numerous threatened and endangered species; functions as the primary source of drinking water for the Front Range of Colorado (or about three quarters of Colorado’s residents); and is renowned for its “gold-medal” fishing. The South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership (SPRUWP) focuses on the headwaters and the Denver metropolitan area, and consists of over seventy organizations, including Federal and state government, municipalities, universities, NGOs and private businesses, all collaborating to address the problems facing the South Platte and improve this vital waterway for current and future generations — as well as those who live downstream of Denver. Below are two case studies highlighting some of the impacts of the Partnership.

Groundwork Denver: Bearing the Banner at Bear Creek

A previous Impact Story (2015) covered the genesis of Groundwork Denver’s water program at Bear Creek, which flows through several cities before it feeds into the South Platte at Englewood. Groundwork Denver leads water quality monitoring and community engagement efforts along Lower Bear Creek, primarily in the working class and low-income town of Sheridan, where many people play in or near the creek and bear the brunt of effects from pollutants that enter the creek upstream. Lower Bear Creek carries high quantities of E.coli, mostly from non-point sources. While E.coli is likely not the only contaminant present, it is an indicator of overall water health, and it is easy to train youth and community members in the process of testing and monitoring for this particular pathogen. In addition to water quality monitoring, Groundwork’s community engagement efforts include public education campaigns, trash cleanups, and canvassing area schools.

Groundwork Denver maintains seventeen regular water quality testing sites in Bear Creek—with most sites located in Sheridan and Denver and one in Lakewood at the headwaters—in order to track how many contaminants the creek picks up on its way downstream. Through its Green and Blue Team job training program, Groundwork Denver trains and employs youths to conduct the sampling approximately two times per month in the winter and four times per month during hotter summer months. Professional and young scientists have discovered that the water quality degrades significantly on its way to Sheridan. The purpose of the ongoing research is to create an overall picture of how the creek becomes contaminated and, more widely, to understand how the South Platte watershed is becoming contaminated and how best to address the problem. These data can serve to identify major outfall sources, inform targeted cleanup and prevention efforts, and drive public education campaigns to advise people about the safety of fishing and recreating in certain areas.

In the future, Groundwork hopes to become involved in the development and maintenance of larger green infrastructure projects. Certification of Green Team members through Colorado State University will create opportunities for youth to lead future ventures in the area of green infrastructure design and maintenance. In 2018, Groundwork Denver—in partnership with Home Depot, River Network, Colorado State University, River Watch, area city governments, and more—received a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Five Star and Urban Waters Grant to install green infrastructure on residential properties, organize volunteer projects to remove trash and invasive species from Bear Creek, and restore the Creek’s habitat by planting native species.

Water Education Colorado: Speaking Fluent Water

In the words of Water Education Colorado (WEco)’s Executive Director Jayla Poppleton, “Our role as a collaborator [in the SPRUWP] is much the same as most of the other partners. We show up, we listen, we share our resources, we highlight opportunities we have coming up that others might want to take advantage of, and we try to be responsive to the needs identified by the group.” WEco programs include educational publications and radio broadcasts, webinars and workshops, leadership courses, an annual conference called Sustaining Colorado Watersheds, and for the past eight years, Urban Waters Bike Tours, which are open and free to the public and are put together collaboratively with a variety of other organizations including the Barr Lake and Milton Reservoir Watershed Association, the Colorado Stormwater Council, and the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District. Though WEco has a statewide mission and focus, the organization is based in Denver, with the bulk of programming taking place in the Denver metro area. To extend its reach, WEco hosts educational tours and workshops in rural and mountain communities and partners with other statewide organizations. WEco also offers extensive training courses and resources for water professionals, community leaders, educators, and non-water professionals. WEco estimates that it reached 156,377 people in 2018.

As members of the Partnership, WEco has been able to build new connections, extend the reach of its programs, learn about additional funding opportunities, and secure additional funding for the Urban Waters Bike Tours through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Water Quality Control Division. Going forward, WEco is committed to advancing awareness and understanding of water issues among a wider variety of citizens and decision makers. In 2019, WEco will be leading development of a Statewide Water Education Action Plan working with other water educators from around the state. The goal of the plan is to build a collective vision and set of goals and metrics that water educators can build on to achieve greater results. WEco is also dedicated to increasing focus on advancing public awareness, including a new initiative called Fresh Water News that provides weekly, up-to-the minute reporting on Colorado water issues, as well as more workshops on topics including community-level watershed health, water quality protection, and water conservation.

Tools and Technologies

In an effort to make water quality and environmental data more accessible to decision-makers and the general public, members of the Partnership—including Federal, state, local governments, and non-profits—have worked together to develop useful interactive tools that can be used in classrooms, community meetings, and more.

Water Quality Assessment Tool

In 2016, the Water Quality Working Group—chaired by Groundwork Denver—pooled resources to develop the Water Quality Assessment Tool (WQAT). The WQAT provides mobile-compatible online access to interactive maps, graphs and narratives users can bring into the field to explore water quality in the South Platte River basin. Educational tools include “storylines,” which are lesson modules covering E-coli, nutrient levels, dissolved solids, and more. Users can also map or graph contaminant levels at specific water quality testing sites, adjusting dates to look at discrete periods of time or analyze trends over a period of years. Instructors can easily use these tools to teach students how to read and analyze maps and graphs; scientists and advocates can use them to share the information with stakeholders in real time.

Natural Capital Asset Map and Decision Support Tool

This ecosystem services valuation tool provides interactive access to data about green infrastructure sites in the headwaters, Denver metro area, and the plains. Data are provided by forty public, private, and non-profit stakeholders. The project aims to equip decision-makers with the best available information about local natural capital—including city parks and forested regions—and their relative importance to public health and the economy. Ranks of importance were determined using forty-eight different studies combined with local data. Users can view maps of these assets by region or neighborhood. The methodology used to create the map combines approaches from multiple green infrastructure mapping efforts throughout the U.S., including Strategic Green Infrastructure Planning (Firehock, 2015) and ESRI’s Green Infrastructure for the U.S. Advanced users with their own GIS programs can download the data and view them in greater detail. Stakeholders interested in conducting additional, more detailed analysis can download the project data and use it within their own GIS interface. SPRUWP stakeholders have used the tool to rank and apply for funding for reforestation projects.

The South Platte River Urban Waters Partnership: Looking Ahead

Partners meet on a quarterly basis to highlight salient partner projects, research findings, and collaborative opportunities. Past highlights included the Denver Parks and Recreation river-front master planning process, Denver’s 2017 Green Roof Initiative (requiring all buildings greater than 25,000 square feet to dedicate a portion of their rooftop to green space), and efforts on the Upper South Platte to conduct landscape-scale forest resilience watershed restoration projects. 2019 presentations will include topics such as green infrastructure for urban stream restoration, automated stormwater sampling systems, and water quality analysis opportunities for students along the South Platte River. Sub-committees will meet on a more regular basis to focus on critical projects and tasks within the spheres of education/outreach and science/data related to the health of the river. The SPRUWP hopes to continue to facilitate the development of powerful partnerships that advance the vision of revitalizing Denver’s urban waters and the surrounding communities.

#Drought news: Another round of moderate to heavy snow across central and western #Colorado pushed mountain #snowpack Snow Water Equivalents (SWE) to record or near-record levels

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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


Dryness and drought intensified across parts of the South, while the overall trend toward drought recovery continued in the Four Corners region. Elsewhere, dryness concerns increased in the Northwest where drought expanded slightly; rain and snow will be needed soon across the northwestern quarter of the nation to prevent the region from slipping further into drought. Most of the nation from the central and northern Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast remained free of drought, with severe flooding the primary concern in the nation’s heartland…

High Plains

The primary concern on the High Plains centered on locally severe flooding in the Missouri River Basin, though localized dryness intensified in some western locales. Moderate to heavy rain (1-2 inches) eliminated the lingering pockets of Abnormal Dryness (D0) in northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska, while a continuation of wet weather (0.5-1 inch) in east-central Colorado facilitated the reduction of D0 east of Colorado Springs. Meanwhile, another round of moderate to heavy snow across central and western Colorado pushed mountain snowpack Snow Water Equivalents (SWE) to record or near-record levels (approaching or reaching the 100th percentile); as a result, additional reductions to the lingering long-term D0 and Moderate Drought (D1) were made. Note the drought over much of the Four Corners is almost exclusively now long-term (L) drought, with deficits most pronounced at 24 months (50-80 percent of normal) and beyond. Despite the overall trend toward drought removal on the High Plains, pronounced short-term dryness over the past 60 days (20-50 percent of normal) east of the Bighorn Mountains led to a small increase in D0 in north-central Wyoming…


Increasingly dry conditions in the Northwest contrasted with additional recovery from long-term drought from the Great Basin into the central and southern Rockies.

Across central and southern portions of the region, moderate to heavy precipitation (0.5 to more than 1 inch) fell from Nevada east-southeastward into Colorado and northeastern New Mexico. This week’s precipitation—on top of last week’s rain and snow—as well as input from local experts led to widespread reduction of the southern High Plains’ Abnormal Dryness (D0). Across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, precipitation over the past two weeks has totaled an impressive 1 to 5 inches (liquid equivalent), pushing mountain Snow Water Equivalents (SWE) toward record levels (80-100th percentile) and begetting notable reductions in drought intensity and coverage. Similar SWE were reported across Utah and Nevada, with corresponding decreases to the lingering D0 and Moderate Drought (D1). Note the drought over much of the Four Corners is almost exclusively now long-term (L), with deficits most pronounced at 24 months (50-80 percent of normal) and beyond.

Farther north, a drought-free California contrasted with increasingly dry conditions across the Northwest and northern Rockies. Changes to the Northwestern drought depiction were minor and confined to small increases of D0 and D1 in northern and western Washington. However, local experts are becoming concerned as water-year precipitation (70-80 percent of-normal) has been subpar in the central and northern Cascade Range and environs, exacerbated by acute short-term dryness (60-day precipitation totaling 30 to 50 percent of normal in Washington, slightly more in northwestern Oregon). Furthermore, snowpacks remained much lower than those seen farther south, with SWE in the 10th to 30th percentile over much of Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana…


Rain in the north contrasted with intensifying dryness in southern portions of the region. Moderate to heavy showers (1-2 inches, locally more) were noted from northern Texas and western Oklahoma southeastward into the northern and central Delta, resulting in a slight reduction of the northern Texas Abnormal Dryness (D0). Additional reductions to the southern Plains’ D0 were made based on input from local experts, indicating additional benefits from the previous week’s rainfall. Conversely, increasingly dry conditions in Texas have been noted over the past 60 days from Childress southward toward Laredo and Corpus Christi, with 90-day rainfall tallying a meager 20 percent of normal in the state’s expanded Severe Drought (D2) areas. Farther east, a highly variable signal is evident from Austin, Texas, eastward to New Orleans, Louisiana; 90-day rainfall has averaged near to above normal in these locales, while 60-day precipitation was below half of normal (locally less than 30 percent)…

Looking Ahead

An unsettled weather pattern will continue over much of the nation. A pair of Pacific storms are expected to bring much-needed rain and mountain snow to the Northwest and northern Rockies. As the lead system marches east, it will produce rain and snow from the central Plains into the Midwest, though the Upper Midwest will remain dry. Increasingly stormy weather is also in the offing for the East Coast States, with the greatest chances for heavy rain noted along Florida’s eastern coast and from the Carolinas into the Mid-Atlantic region. Mostly dry weather is expected from the lower Four Corners into central Texas, while showers may return to southern Texas. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 2–6 calls for near- to above-normal precipitation across most of nation, save for pockets of dryness in the Southwest and central Gulf Coast region; drier-than-normal conditions are also expected over Alaska. Colder-than-normal weather over northern portions of the Plains and Upper Midwest will contrast with above-normal temperatures in northern- and southern-most portions of the Atlantic Coast States and from the Four Corners into the Northwest and Alaska.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 26, 2019.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: “Why does Eagle River Water & Sanitation District care so much about local streams?” — Diane Johnson

Here’s a column about snowpack and runoff from Diane Johnson that’s running in The Vail Daily. Click through and read the whole column to learn about the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District priorities during drought. Here’s an excerpt:

As the water provider for homes and businesses from Vail through Edwards, we welcome each snowfall. Specifically, we focus on the water content — or “snow water equivalent” (SWE) — of our local snowpack. Statewide SWE is currently about 140 percent of normal and local snow measuring sites are similarly high.

Above normal SWE generally bodes well for summer water supply. However, we need the snowpack to linger well into May. The federal snow measuring site on Vail Mountain normally peaks on April 25, then the melt starts. The Fremont Pass site near the headwaters of the Eagle River normally peaks on May 6, followed by a six-week melt. A slower melt lets water seep into soils — which were parched entering winter due to drought in 2018. While good winter snow should mean good summer river flows, some of that snowmelt will replenish soil moisture and not be part of spring runoff. Winter may be over, but the Eagle River valley needs April (snow) showers to bring May (river) scours.

Why does Eagle River Water & Sanitation District care so much about local streams? Because they serve as the supply for us to provide you with clean, safe drinking water, irrigation water, and fire protection. The amount of water used by our customers affects local stream levels. Since healthy waterways are critical to our natural environment and recreation-based economy, we strive to balance the water needs of our customers with the rivers’ needs.

In July 2018, as drought caused local waterways to drop to low levels, we prioritized river water over customers’ use of water for outdoor purposes. Outdoor areas use much more water than indoor areas and landscape irrigation has a greater impact on streamflows than indoor and fireflow use. Our staffcontacted hundreds of customers who were using excessive amounts of water that disproportionately impacted our community’s limited water resource. Nearly all customers who were contacted responded positively, which helped to preserve streamflows.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

…the moisture March has been delivering to Colorado has put an exclamation point on a stellar snowpack season. The state has experienced a remarkable turnaround from last year when poor snowpack and meager rainfall left the state deep in drought.

“There are lingering effects (of that drought) for sure, but as far as the snowpack goes, it’s really the best that we can hope for,” said Taryn Finnessey, climate change risk management specialist for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

As of Wednesday, statewide snowpack averaged 140 percent of median.

“It’s been a very good water year,” Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said of the 12-month hydrological period that began last Oct. 1.

He said conditions have been particularly good in the southern mountains, where snowpack levels have been at 275 to 300 percent of where they were a year ago and already are well above their average seasonal peak amounts…

According to a March drought update produced by the board, since Feb. 1 the San Juan Mountains have received 15 inches of precipitation, nearly equal to the entire total they received during the 2018 water year that ended Sept. 30.

River basins in far-southwest Colorado on Tuesday had a combined median snowpack of 161 percent of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Gunnison Basin, which was water-starved last year, is at 154 percent of median, and the upper Colorado River Basin is at 136 percent.

The Weather Service is reporting that precipitation so far this month in Grand Junction has totaled 2.28 inches, just 0.08 inches behind the record of 2.36 set more than a century ago, in 1912. Local weather records date back to 1893.

The current water year got off to a wet start in Grand Junction in October, which was the fourth-wettest on record for the city, with 2.76 inches of precipitation…

Record-setting or not, such moisture in Colorado has gone far to alleviate drought conditions in the state. Three months ago two-thirds of the state was experiencing some level of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That was down to just under a third of the state as of March 12, and about 7 percent as of the latest drought report last week, with drought conditions remaining in parts of southern Colorado.

Mesa County and much of western Colorado are now ranked as abnormally dry but not in drought. But officials are recommending removing that abnormally dry designation for Mesa County and much of the surrounding region in the next drought map, scheduled for release today…

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Erik Knight, a hydrologist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in Grand Junction, said the outlook at Blue Mesa Reservoir is “a lot better than a few months ago, that’s for sure.”

The massive, 940,700 acre-foot reservoir’s level has fallen to around 30 percent of capacity, and hasn’t been that low since 1977.

Now, Knight said, it’s looking like it may get to 85 percent of full this year…

Now Colorado snowpack levels are high enough that water officials are at least considering the potential for flooding this spring.

“Right now we’re not overly alarmed. We’re just going to see how it plays out,” Finnessey said.

She said streamflow forecasts are average to just above average at this point.

“Typically snowmelt is rather well behaved in Colorado,” she said.

She said most of the state’s flooding results from rain, not snowmelt runoff. In addition, it remains to be seen how much of the runoff goes toward refilling reservoirs versus swelling streams. But Finnessey said officials are looking forward to the ecosystem and reservoir benefits the snowmelt will provide.

But she said the drought’s impacts aren’t over, as in the case of ranchers who had to sell livestock last year. Poor hay-growing and range forage conditions took a heavy toll on many of them.

From 9News.com (Allison Levine):

Denver Water’s reservoirs are already in good shape with some, like Eleven Mile, over capacity…

What does that mean for Denver Water customers?

Hartman: It means we have a healthy water supply. It means, going into the summer, we’re going to be in our standard watering rules. We’ve seen, over the years, our customers become so good with their water use and we expect to see the same from them this summer…

There is still a lot of snow that has to melt. How will that impact reservoir capacity?

Hartman: We will be able to fill our reservoirs and we’ll be able to use that water throughout the summer. We’re in late March right now, it’s obviously always difficult to predict how things will unfold. We could, say for example, have a warm April. A warm April would melt that snow off more quickly.

Because of a number of dry years in the last 10 and 20 years, we have low soil moisture and Mother Nature gets dibs on that water. So, even with that great snowpack, some of that’s going to get eaten up by that very thirsty soil.

You can always get evaporation if the weather gets very hot, or we could have a cooler April, which we hope for. That slows the melt off and sort of sustains the reservoir that is the snow. We consider the snowpack one giant reservoir. We are optimistic that we will continue to see these weather patterns that keep the snowmelt happening in a slower, more predictable, and more manageable way.

U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power #Drought Contingency Plan hearing recap

Tom Buschatzke.

Here’s a report from Andrew Howard writing for The Cronkite News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

The director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources told a Senate panel Wednesday there is an “urgent need” to authorize a multistate drought contingency plan for the Colorado River basin.

Tom Buschatzke was one of several state and federal officials pressing Congress on the plan, years in the making, that is designed to head off a potential water “crisis” in the region and help settle disputes over water allocations if the Colorado does drop to crisis levels.

Despite recent rains, there is still a pressing need for the plans in a region that has been hit by “its worst drought in recorded history,” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

“We didn’t get into this drought in one year, and we’re not going to get out of it in one year,” Burman told members of a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee.

The plan addresses water supplies in the river’s two biggest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which Burman said dropped in 2018 to 40 percent of their combined capacity. She said the water level is the lowest since the 1960s, when Lake Powell was still filling.

Under previous agreements, states in the lower basin – Arizona, Nevada and California – began to lose their rights to the amount of water they could take from the river once Lake Mead fell below a certain level.

The new plan raises that threshold and eases the amount of water states have to give up initially – triggering an earlier but less harsh response in hopes of staving off severe shortfalls.

For Arizona, that means the state would have to give up – or “contribute” in the terms of the agreement – 192,000 acre-feet a year once Lake Mead levels fell below 1,090 feet, compared to the old contribution of 320,000 acre-feet after the lake fell below 1,075 feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, or 325,853 gallons.

It’s taken years of negotiating to reach the deal, which involves seven states, local and tribal governments, and the U.S and -Mexican administrations.

But for California and Arizona, much of the wrangling has been over how much different groups within their states would have to give up to make up the overall state’s contribution in a shortfall.

Buschatzke said that despite a lot of debate at the beginning of the process, Arizona was able to develop a plan that spreads the impact of contributions throughout the state after “folks came to the table” to work on a deal…

“Now that the states have completed their work, it’s time for Congress to take it across the finish line,” said Sen. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, at Wednesday’s hearing. McSally, who chairs the Water and Power Subcommittee, said she plans introduce enabling legislation “very soon.”


Buschatzke said in his prepared testimony that he hopes for quick action, because any delay “greatly reduces the sustainability of the Colorado River system.”

If the plan does not take effect, he said, there could be a “crisis” for the river, which provides water for more than 40 million people, irrigates 5.5 million acres of farmland and generates hydropower for millions.

From the Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner attended the hearing and commended the seven Colorado River basin states for coming together to define a plan.

“This is an incredibly important issue for those of us out in the plains of Colorado, those of us in Western Colorado and throughout the upper basin of Colorado — and lower basin,” he said. “Colorado has the unique distinction of being a state that all water flows out of and no water flows into.”

Gardner said the guidelines created in 2007 didn’t sufficiently mitigate the risk of Lake Mead dropping below critical levels. He added that even though Colorado was helped by a wet winter this year, it’s still important to determine a plan to prevent a crisis that would impact 40 million people in the West.

“These are states where history is written in water so this is incredibly important,” he said.

Greeley, Evans, and Kersey IGA to establish #SouthPlatte River corridor

South Platte River near Kersey September 13, 2009.

From The Greeley Tribune (Sara Knuth):

Greeley Community Development Director Brad Mueller said Greeley, Kersey and Evans had equal goals for the South Platte River Corridor, including maintaining the area’s natural habitat and recognizing the recreation potential.

The agreement, which recognizes the growth boundaries of the cities and the town, creates a cooperative planning area and makes a protocol for future annexations in the area.

Additionally, the agreement sets guidelines for the way the land can be used. Adult businesses and industrial companies, such as junkyards and dispensaries, would be prohibited on the land.

More trees dying in #NewMexico — The Santa Fe New Mexican

Click here to read the report.

From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Thom Cole):

Forest mortality increased nearly 50 percent across New Mexico in 2018, the first jump in five years, according to an annual report on the health of the state’s forests.

More than 120,000 acres of ponderosa pine, spruce, piñon and other trees were lost, said the recently released report.

Near-record heat and a drought across the state weakened the ability of trees to fight off beetles and other pests, according to John Formby, an entomologist who heads the state forest health program.

“The trees can’t defend themselves, produce resin,” Formby said.

He said the health of the state’s forests should improve this year due to heavier winter snows and a wet start to spring, but said the trend is for continued forest loss because of hotter, drier weather brought on by climate change.

“Long term, I’m not expecting [annual mortality] numbers to vary very much,” Formby said.

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have said it is highly likely New Mexico will lose the vast majority of its forests by 2050.

#Colorado water officials start studying statewide program to reduce water use — @AspenJournalism

The bathtub ring in Lake Powell in October 2014. Today, the reservoir is under 40 percent full and water managers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are working on demand management programs that would reduce water use and send more water to the big reservoir that sits on the mainstem of the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted Thursday [March 21, 2019] to start exploring the feasibility of a demand-management program as part of a larger effort to manage falling water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and avoid violating the Colorado River Compact.

Basalt resident Gail Schwartz, a former Colorado senator sworn onto the CWCB board Wednesday, said the effort to develop a demand-management, or water-reduction, program was “equally as large in concept and far-reaching” as developing the state’s 2015 water plan.

“This is a statewide conversation,” said Schwartz, who spent eight years working on water bills while on the Senate’s agriculture, natural resources and energy committee.

And Schwartz encouraged CWCB staff to find ways to involve citizens outside of the professional water-management sector in developing the plan.

“I think the whole state needs to have an opportunity to weigh in,” she said.

To fund the demand-management feasibility study, expected to take until at least January, the state budget bill now includes a $1.7 million line item.

A Thursday memo from CWCB staff and the state Attorney General’s Office said a demand-management program was part of an effort to avoid “mandatory” cutbacks in water use.

“The term ‘demand management’ loosely refers to the intentional conservation of water for the purpose of helping assure compliance with the Colorado River Compact, and in so doing, avoiding the need to implement mandatory water administration strategies to fulfill the Upper Basin’s compact obligations,” the memo said.

The demand-management study effort is in addition to the ongoing effort by CWCB staff to update the 2015 water plan. A technical update of a 2010 water-supply study is due this summer from CWCB, and there also is a $5 million effort planned to update the plans and project lists in each of the state’s river basins.

Brent Newman, the CWCB’s section chief for Colorado River issues, said he would begin the demand-management effort this week by setting up dates for workshops on the topic and developing lists of experts to serve on small work groups.

But he emphasized that starting an investigation of demand management is different than implementing the program.

Newman said a project team would be formed to guide the demand-management study, with representatives on the team from the CWCB, the Attorney General’s Office, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Division of Water Resources, and the Upper Colorado River Commission.

Also, eight work groups of selected experts will be formed to look at demand management from various perspectives: law and policy, monitoring and verification, water-rights administration and accounting, environmental considerations, economic considerations; funding, education and outreach and agricultural impacts.

“To have these work groups operate in the way they need to, they are going to have to be efficient,” Newman told the CWCB board at its meeting in Fort Collins last week. “And when I say efficient, I mean small.”

Information from the work groups will then be shared with the various basin roundtables and the public, he said.

A hayfield near Grand Junction irrigated with water from the Colorado River. State officials are now exploring a demand management program that would pay willing irrigators to fallow hay fields and send the water otherwise use to Lake Powell. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism


The state’s emerging demand-management program is tied to a seven-state drought-contingency planning effort, which is to be presented to Congress this week.

James Eklund, the commissioner for Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission, is scheduled to testify Thursday on the drought-contingency plan before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman also is slated to testify at both the House hearing, as well as at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the drought plan Wednesday.

The seven states want Congress to approve a short piece of legislation authorizing the Interior secretary to implement the drought-contingency plan “in order to respond to the historic drought and ongoing dry conditions in the basin,” according to a March 19 letter sent to Congress by representatives of the seven basin states.

If the federal legislative effort is successful, the states will still need to finalize and sign the drought-contingency planning documents and agreements.

There are different sets of DCP agreements in the upper and lower basins. In the lower basin, agreements define how the lower-basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada will cut back on water use to maintain water levels in Lake Mead.

In the upper basin, agreements create a new regulatory pool of water within Lake Powell where water saved through demand management can be stored to be used as needed by Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico.

The upper-basin agreements also allow for water stored in Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs to be released to prop up water levels in Lake Powell.

In November, the CWCB adopted a demand-management policy stating that a demand-management program would be a voluntary, temporary and compensated.

The water savings would come, in large measure, by paying willing irrigators to fallow hayfields and let water that would otherwise have been consumed run down the Colorado River system to Lake Powell, which is less than 40 percent full.

Eklund, the former director of the CWCB, said he understood that the state’s study of demand management may take a year or more to complete, but he said despite this winter’s good snowpack, renewed drought and falling reservoir levels may still force the state’s hand.

“I understand that we have to hear from the many stakeholders, but at some point, Mother Nature may not cooperate with us,” Eklund said. “If that’s the case, we will have to move from study mode and talking mode to doing mode, whether we are comfortable with it or not.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily and the Steamboat Pilot. The Times and the Post Independent published the story on Monday, March 25, 2019.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Is Necessary Now — Tom Buschatzke, et al. #COriver #DCP #aridification

Caption: Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, CA / ModelRelease: N/A / PropertyRelease: N/A (Newscom TagID: ndxphotos113984) [Photo via Newscom]

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Tom Buschatzke):

This opinion piece was penned by Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; L. James Eklund, Colorado state representative on Colorado River issues; Peter Nelson, chairman of the board of the California Water Service Group; John J. Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; John R. D’Antonio Jr., state engineer of New Mexico; Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources; Pat Tyrrell, state engineer of Wyoming; Matt Rice, Colorado basin director at American Rivers; David O’Neill, Chief Conservation Officer at the National Audubon Society; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems – water at the Environmental Defense Fund; Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director at The Nature Conservancy; Scott Yates, director of the Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited; Christy Plumer, chief conservation officer at The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director at Western Resource Advocates

Last week, the seven Colorado River basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — sent a letter to Congress calling for federal legislation to authorize the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Congressional House and Senate committees are holding hearings on the plan. It’s a historic moment for a river that supports two countries, seven states, 40 million people, 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, 22 federally recognized tribes, 11 national parks, seven wildlife refuges, four national recreation areas, and seven endangered species.

In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea, California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the case.

Preserving the health and the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River is one of the most important issues we face in the United States. The DCP is a mitigation plan to avoid catastrophic water supply shortages in the western United States, and is the result of a years-long, state-driven process conducted during the previous and current federal administrations. The DCP is designed so that users agree to leave more water in the Colorado River system by reducing the use of this imperiled resource. The DCP has received broad support from the seven Colorado River basin states, many Native American tribes that depend on the river, and a wide array of environmental groups and agencies.

From its inception, the DCP was designed to function within rigorous environmental analysis review and permitting processes that have already been completed.

The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if they change their minds. But with or without IID’s participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton Sea—a fact acknowledged by IID at a September 2018 Board of Directors meeting, among others.

Is the Salton Sea imperiled? Yes. People and wildlife are at risk as the sea’s receding shoreline generates public health issues, among other undesirable environmental outcomes. Nearly $280 million in California funding is currently available to initiate dust control and habitat restoration efforts to begin addressing these issues today. The proposed DCP actions are not the cause of the Salton Sea’s problems nor will they exacerbate the situation in any way when implemented.

In recent years, the Colorado River has become imperiled by a historic, unprecedented drought that has caused Lake Powell and Lake Mead to plummet from nearly full to just 40 percent of their full capacity. If no action is taken to preserve the river system, these reservoirs will continue to decline, threatening the ability to deliver water to tens of millions of people in the United States and Mexico. If that happens, the current issues will become dwarfed by many unimaginable and unsolvable crisis points. It is this eventuality the DCP is specifically designed to prevent.

All seven Colorado River basin states and the NGO partners remain supportive of the need to solve the Salton Sea’s environmental challenges. The States and undersigned NGOs recognize and support California’s current Salton Sea Management Plan to mitigate its decline and manage the sea over the next decade. But attempting to delay or derail the DCP, a critical action to preserve the lifeblood of the entire American Southwest, is not the right way to achieve that solution.

Undoubtedly, the Salton Sea needs a lifeline through swift actions, and the Colorado River needs a lifeline through swift approval of the Drought Contingency Plan in Congress.

April Long Appointed To Water Quality Commission — Aspen Public Radio

Roaring Fork River back in the day

From Aspen Public Radio (Zoe Rom):

Governor Jared Polis appointed Long to the commission last week. She’ll continue serving as Aspen’s stormwater manager and clean river program manager. Long first started working for the city in 2008.

The commission helps develop standards for water quality for groundwater and lakes, rivers and streams in Colorado.

Pending confirmation in the Senate, Long will serve until February of 2022.

#Drought news: Folks across #Colorado are cautiously optimistic after wet winter

West Drought Monitor March 19, 2019.

From The Summit Daily (Deepak Dutta) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Over the past month, Colorado has gone from nearly 70 percent of the state in drought to less than 5 percent. That drenching happened over the past month, a four-week period that included the snowiest early March that most Summit residents can remember. Yet it remains to be seen whether the season’s precipitation will put much of a dent on the region’s near-20-year drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, which uses water flow levels and other data to assess drought conditions across the country, shows that only 6.4 percent of the state’s land area is experiencing drought conditions, with 46.1 percent being considered at least “abnormally dry.” Compare that to the middle of February, when 67.2 percent of the state was in a drought and 91.8 percent abnormally dry.

For Summit County, the difference has been especially staggering. Summit and 39.7 percent of Colorado were experiencing at least a “severe drought” on Feb. 19. Today, the county is back to normal conditions, with only 0.6 percent of the state experiencing severe drought or worse…

And while the new precipitation is very promising, it is just one drop in the stream of time. According to the drought monitor, Colorado has been experiencing sustained dryness since the late ’90s. Since 2000, the longest duration of drought in Colorado lasted 395 weeks, or nearly eight years, beginning in October 2001 and ending in May 2009.

“The drought monitor is a snapshot of what’s happening now and ramifications into this upcoming summer,” said Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District. “But there’s a longer-term picture, the long-term drought from the year 2000 through this year.”

Pokrandt said that since 2000, Colorado has only had four years at or above average levels. The 2018-19 winter will be the fifth, but he said one big year does not end a long-term drought.

“If we have three or four more of these years of average snowpack, we might talk differently,” Pokrandt said. “But I would not say the drought’s back is broken.”

County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier echoed Pokrandt’s words of caution, noting that the drought was so bad just last summer that remnants of Old Dillon resurfaced from the bottom of the lake. There is a lot of recovery left to go, she said.

“We’ve had very high temperatures for March, and the snow is already starting to melt off,” Stiegelmeier said. “Just because we have all this precipitation now doesn’t mean that in two months that we won’t be dry again since we get most of our precipitation in March and April.”

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):


Abundant and much needed precipitation across Colorado`s High Country over the past few months has allowed the US Drought Monitor to indicate marked improvement in the drought that has plagued much of Colorado over the past year. Abundant precipitation through the first half of March, with statewide Colorado Snotel observations reporting 289 percent of average March precipitation through the first 19 days of the month, has allowed for continued improvement. With that said, the latest Drought Monitor, issued Thursday March 21st 2019, has removed all of the Extreme Drought (D3) conditions across the state, with Severe Drought (D2) conditions now confined to extreme southern portions of Costilla County, and extreme southwestern portions of Las Animas County.

Moderate Drought (D1) conditions are now depicted across most of the rest of Costilla County, extreme southeastern and southwestern portions of Conejos County, western portions of Las Animas County, the western 2/3rds of Huerfano County, eastern Custer County, extreme southwestern Pueblo County and south central portions of Fremont County.

Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are now indicated across Mineral County, Rio Grande County and the rest of Conejos County, as well as, eastern portions of Saguache County, Alamosa County and extreme southwestern portions of Costilla County. Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are also depicted across extreme southeastern Chaffee County and the rest of Fremont and Custer Counties, as well as, Teller County, most of El Paso County, and the rest of Pueblo County. Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are also indicated Crowley County, western Kiowa County, extreme northwestern portions of Bent County, extreme eastern Otero and Huerfano Counties, as well as central into eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Drought free conditions are now indicated across western portions of Saguache County, most of Chaffee County, Lake County and extreme northern portions of El Paso County. Drought free conditions are also depicted across the rest of Kiowa, Bent, Otero and Las Animas Counties, as well as Prowers and Baca Counties.


Fall and Winter precipitation has helped to ease fire danger across much of South Central and Southeast Colorado. However, with cured fuels and more windy weather associated with the early Winter Season, fire danger across non snow covered areas could be moderate to high at times into the early Spring.

New Mexico’s ‘mini’ Green New Deal, dissected — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

The Energy Transition Act could be a model for ambitious policies of the future.

On March 23, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act, a complex bill that will move the state toward cleaner electricity generation, clear the way for the state’s biggest utility to shutter one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants in 2022, and provide mechanisms for a just transition for economically affected communities.

The bill has the support of the state’s biggest utility — Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM — as well as environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. National media are hailing it as a mini-Green New Deal.

San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

Here’s a breakdown of what the bill does — and doesn’t — do:

Perhaps most significantly, the bill mandates that New Mexico electricity providers get 80 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2040, and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2045. Those are ambitious goals that will result in huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in a state that currently gets half its electricity from coal and a third from natural gas.

That said, it’s important to remember that “carbon-free” and “renewable” are not synonyms. The 20 percent of carbon-free electricity can include nuclear, since no greenhouse gases are emitted during fission, as well as coal and natural gas equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Carbon capture is prohibitively expensive — and unproven — but nuclear power is readily available from Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona, where PNM currently gets about 18 percent of its power.

Also, “electricity” and “energy” are two distinct concepts — a common source of confusion. This bill applies only to electricity consumed by New Mexicans and has no direct bearing on the state’s burgeoning oil or natural gas production. Meanwhile, the Four Corners Power Plant, located in New Mexico but owned by Arizona Public Service, can continue to burn coal under the renewable standards as long as the electricity is exported to other states. But PNM plans to divest its 13 percent ownership in Four Corners Power Plant in 2031, leaving the plant on shakier economic ground.

The bill helps pave the way for the planned closure of San Juan Generating Station, located just north of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.

The station’s owner, PNM, announced two years ago that it would likely shut down the plant in 2022 because it was no longer economically viable. Many aspects of this bill are a direct reaction to the pending closure, particularly the sections that allow the utility to take out “energy transition bonds” to cover costs associated with abandonment. Those bonds will be paid off by ratepayers, but not taxpayers.

This has irked New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based group that has been pushing PNM to clean up its act for years. The group, a critic of the bill, would rather see PNM’s investors shoulder the cost of the bonds. After all, the investors are the ones who have profited handsomely off the power plant for nearly half a century, even as it pumped millions of tons of climate warming gases into the air, along with acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide, health-harming particulates, mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials.

While the bill does not specifically force the plant’s closure, it does mandate the creation of standards that limit carbon dioxide emissions from large coal-burning plants to about half of what coal emits per megawatt-hour — effectively killing any possibility of keeping the generating station operating.

The energy transition bonds will help fund a just transition away from coal. Some 450 jobs— about one-fourth of them held by Native Americans — will be lost when the San Juan Generating Station and the associated San Juan Mine close, together with an estimated $356 million in economic activity annually.

The bill allocates up to $30 million for reclamation costs, and up to $40 million to help displaced workers and affected communities, to be shared by the Energy Transition Indian Affairs Fund, Economic Development Assistance Fund and Displaced Worker Assistance Fund. The Indian Affairs Fund will be spent according to a plan developed by the state, in consultation with area tribal governments and with input from affected communities, and the economic development fund will help local officials diversify the local economy. The bill also requires PNM to replace a portion of the area’s lost generation capacity, in the process creating jobs and tax revenue.

The new bill has some missing elements. There’s no provision for making amends to the people who have lived near the plant for years and suffered ill health, such as high asthma rates, as a result. It won’t stop Four Corners Power Plant, located just 10 miles from San Juan Generating Station, from belching out pollution (though it does provide for a just transition away from that plant if it closes by 2031), and it doesn’t address the massive climate impact from oil and gas development or transportation. The act is merely an official acknowledgment that coal is dying, and that coal communities could die, too, without help.

Nevertheless, the Energy Transition Act is remarkable in that it promises to totally decarbonize electricity in a state that has leaned heavily on fossil fuel for decades, while also lending a hand to communities that would otherwise be left behind. It is a good template, or at least a decent sketch, for a national Green New Deal.

Extra: Listen to High Country News Contributing Editor Cally Carswell’s new Hot & Dry Podcast for even more context on New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act:

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at jonathan@hcn.org.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is building a $2 million solar array to lower energy costs for members

Sleeping Ute Mountain via the Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe broke ground [March 13, 2019] on a $2 million solar project that will be used to lower electricity bills for tribal residents in Towaoc.

An 8-acre hayfield west of the Ute Mountain Casino will be transformed into a 1 megawatt solar array with 3,500 panels facing skyward. Construction is expected to take six to eight weeks, and after testing, the switch will be flipped on in June or July…

“This as a step forward for the tribe to become energy independent and self-reliant,” said Bernadette Cuthair, tribal community services director. “We want our tribal members to sign up to learn the solar trade.”

The project was funded by a $973,000 grant from the Department of Energy and a $1 million match from the tribe. It will be the largest solar array in Montezuma County.

The tribe partnered with Grid Alternatives, an organization that works to provide renewable energy to low-income communities.

“We believe the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy should include everyone,” said Brittney Heller, workforce organizer for Grid Alternatives.

Tribal members must sign up to receive solar discounts on their electric bill by April 30. They will bring their Empire Electric Association account information to the tribe’s planning department or environmental office, and reduced bills will start to show up in July or August.

An opportunity to sign up for discounts will happen every year. Government offices will also see electric bill savings from the project.

The project will create 13 temporary jobs and offer free training in the solar industry. Volunteer days allow tribal members to help build the project and learn skills.

Four three-month paid internships are being offered for tribal members to work on the project and receive training. Applications are being accepted. Workers will also be recruited from the tribe’s job force division.

The latest “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from @WaterEdCO

Colorado Rivers. Credit: Geology.com

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

2019 President’s Reception May 3
Join us for our annual awards dinner and fundraiser as we honor Jennifer Pitt with the Diane Hoppe Leadership Award and Celene Hawkins with the Emerging Leader Award. Enjoy a sit-down dinner and fun-filled evening in celebration of water education and water leadership in Colorado.

Puchase tickets here.

Is Denver’s water safe to drink? – News on TAP

Ongoing testing and treatment ensure a high-quality supply for the Mile High City, although concerns persist nationwide.

Source: Is Denver’s water safe to drink? – News on TAP

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: @CSUtilities expects storage vessels to fill this season

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From KOAA.com (Bill Folsom):

Snow in Colorado’s high country starts the transition into water-supply in just weeks. This year, the run-off is going to be above normal.

Water managers with Colorado Springs Utilities want to know just how much water. “We do a snow read twice a month. Mid month and then the end of the month,” said Josh Propernick with Colorado Springs Utilities. The measurements happen from January through April. Crews head deep into the mountains at the Continental Divide to find out how much to expect.

The measurements done by hand, add detail to other measurements done by automated sensors. “We really do depend on this data to help us kind of plan our operations for the year,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Water Planning Supervisor, Kalsoum Abbasi, “Figure out how much room we need to make in our downstream reservoirs.”

Depth, density and weight of snow are calculated. “What I’m interested in when I’m looking at these reads, is what’s called snow-water equivalent,” said Abbasi, “So that’s how much water in inches would there be if you melted that snow column down.”


The amount of run-off from snowpack this year will be more than reservoirs in the Colorado Spring Utilities system can hold. Excess water ends up going down stream. It is a preferred scenario compared to a year ago when snowpack was well below normal because of drought conditions.

From Weather Nation:

In some of Utah, California and Colorado’s ski resorts, a full season’s snow has already been observed, with several weeks still to go in the winter snow season…

California snowpack, meanwhile, is running at an incredible 154 percent of season-to-date levels. California’s snowpack is a vital source of drinking water and helps stave off wildfires…

Colorado, meanwhile, is also enjoying a boom snow season. Buoyed by some parts of southern Colorado running at 150 percent or more of average, the Centennial State is enjoying a terrific winter filled with plenty of snow. This is particularly important for the Colorado River, which starts in the state of its namesake and provides drinking water for California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.

From The Provers Journal (Russ Baldwin):


At or above normal precipitation over the last 6 months across most of South Central and Southeast Colorado has helped to improve soil moisture, especially across southeastern portions of the state, where latest Vic Soil Moisture data indicating surplus soil moisture at this time. Winter precipitation has also helped to improve conditions across South Central Colorado; however, some long term dryness continues to be indicated.


Latest NRCS data indicates statewide precipitation for the month of February came in at 138 percent of average, which got a boost from abundant and widespread precipitation across southwestern portions of the Colorado, where some basins indicated over 200 percent of average precipitation for the month. For the 2019 Water Year thus far, statewide precipitation is at 110 percent of average overall.

In the Arkansas Basin, February precipitation was 124 percent of average, which brings water year to date precipitation to 110 percent of average overall.

In the Rio Grande Basin, February precipitation was 175 percent of average, which brings water year to date precipitation to 109 percent of average overall.

NRCS data indicated statewide snowpack on March 1st came in at 112 percent of average overall, compared to only 73 percent of average snowpack available at this same time last year. In stark contrast to last year, the northern and southern basins across the state are at or above normal levels.

In the Arkansas Basin, March 1st snowpack came in at 128 percent of average overall, compared to only 64 percent of average snowpack available at this same time last year. Again, in stark contrast to last year, the northern and southern portions of the Arkansas Basin are at or above normal levels.

In the Rio Grande Basin, March 1st snowpack came in at 115 percent of average overall, compared to only 59 percent of the available snowpack at this same time last year.

NRCS data indicated statewide water storage came in at 83 percent of average overall at the end of February, as compared to 115 percent of average storage available statewide at this same time last year.

In the Arkansas Basin, water storage at the end of February came in at 87 percent of average overall, as compared to 134 percent of average storage available at this same time last year.

From The Summit Daily (Deepak Dutta) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

The state now stands at 140 percent of normal snowpack. Southwest Colorado, which suffered the most from last year’s arid summer, is seeing anywhere from 150 to 157 percent average snowpack…

Pokrandt said that since 2000, Colorado has only had four years at or above average levels. The 2018-19 winter will be the fifth, but he said one big year does not end a long-term drought.

“If we have three or four more of these years of average snowpack, we might talk differently,” Pokrandt said. “But I would not say the drought’s back is broken.”

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 26, 2019 via the NRCS.

@EPA provides update on Bonita Peak Superfund site water treatment plant and sampling data — Global Mining Review #AnimasRiver

The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

From the EPA via Global Mining Review:

Yesterday, EPA released preliminary water quality sampling data related to the temporary shutdown of the interim water treatment plant at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site at Gladstone (Colorado). EPA’s analysis confirms that there were no adverse impacts to downstream drinking water or agricultural users associated with the short-term shutdown of the plant based on data that indicate minimal to no changes in water quality at sampling points downstream of Silverton in Durango. There were no observed impacts to aquatic life. Any impacts to aquatic life would be limited to the Animas River near Silverton.

The water treatment plant went offline on the evening of 14 March due to extreme weather conditions resulting in a power surge that tripped critical circuit breakers at the facility. The same weather event triggered an avalanche and several snow slides across the county road and prevented access to the plant. After a period of less than 48 hours, EPA brought plant back online and resumed normal operations on the afternoon of 16 March.

“EPA appreciates the efforts of our partners in San Juan County Colorado and the water plant operators for working quickly to minimise the length of time the facility was out of operation and limit any localised impacts to water quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento.

“During and after the treatment plant shutdown, real time measurements of turbidity, pH and electrical conductivity from sondes in the Animas River provided no indication that downstream water users would be adversely impacted,” said New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan.

“EPA’s laboratory test results confirm the interpretation of real time sonde data.”

EPA collected water samples at four locations along the Animas River from Cement Creek to Durango from 15 – 21 March. A preliminary analysis of the sampling data from 15 – 20 March shows a measurable elevation of metals concentrations, particularly copper, at the confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River, about six miles below Gladstone. Levels of metals were slightly elevated at a location on the Animas River approximately one mile south of Silverton.

Heavy metal concentrations in the Animas River at two sampling locations in Durango were well within the range of concentrations previously observed when the treatment plant is operating. The detections of low concentrations of metals in the Animas River may be associated with the temporary closure of the plant, but they may also be related to several other factors that should be considered when evaluating these data.

These include snow and avalanche debris being deposited in Cement Creek, the Animas River and local waterways which potentially introduced metals containing soils and sediments. There is also the potential for the ongoing rain and runoff at lower elevations to mobilise metals containing sediments from the 416 fire at locations below the confluence of Hermosa Creek and the Animas River.

Preliminary data can be viewed at https://response.epa.gov/GladstoneWTP. Data from samples collected on 21 March will available on this website later this week.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) are seeking applicants for agricultural energy efficiency and renewable energy projects

Photo via SolarPumps.com.

From the CDA and CEO via The Pagosa Sun:

The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) and the Colorado Energy Office (CEO) are seeking applicants for agricultural energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

The total amount available for assistance in fiscal year 2019 is $250,000. The funding is available to Colorado agricultural irrigators, dairies, greenhouses, nurseries and cold storage facilities.

The funding is part of the multiagency Colorado Agricultural Energy Efficiency Program, which provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers to install and maintain projects that address natural resource concerns in Colorado. The current funding amount includes $200,000 for energy efficiency projects and $50,000 for renewable energy projects. This funding is provided by CDA’s Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency grant program.

The Colorado Agricultural Energy Efficiency Program provides a turnkey approach that makes energy-efficiency improvements easy for producers. The program provides free energy audits, renewable energy site assessments and technical support services to about 60 Colorado producers annually.

CEO administers the program and funds the energy audits and technical support services, along with some project financing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and CDA also provide funding for project implementation and additional services.

Applicants must be enrolled in the agricultural efficiency program and complete either an energy audit to receive funding for energy efficiency projects or complete a preliminary site assessment and technical report to receive funding for renewable energy projects.

Applicants may receive up to $50,000 per project. Additional federal funding may be available. Eligible energy-efficiency projects are limited to those recommended in the energy audit report. Eligible renewable energy technologies are limited to thermal systems for hot or chilled water, process heat, or space conditioning, and solar photovoltaic systems. Renewable energy technologies for thermal systems include geothermal and advanced heat-pump systems, and solar thermal technologies.

Applications are available online at http://www.colorado.gov/energyoffice/agricultural-energy-efficiency and at http://www.colorado.gov/agconservation/acre.
The deadline has been extended from the original March 15 to April 12. Applications must be received by the CDA before 4 p.m. on April 12.

A 2018 video featuring two projects can be found at https://www.facebook.com/coloradoag/videos/2241642759181653/.

2019 #COleg: SB19-181, (Protect Public Welfare Oil And Gas Operations), continues to advance #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Wattenberg Oil and Gas Field via Free Range Longmont

From The Greeley Tribune (Tyler Silvy):

Senate Bill 19-181, which would put in place additional regulations on oil and gas development in Colorado, passed Monday out of the House Finance Committee.

It was a 7-4, party-line vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against.

The bill, which would change the mission and makeup of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, change forced or statutory pooling regulations and provide more local control over oil and gas development, has already passed three Senate committees and now two House committees…

Perhaps the biggest question about the bill is how it will impact the industry, particularly in Weld County, which produces more oil and gas than all other Colorado counties combined.

Industry groups and the bill’s sponsors are at odds over the impacts, and the nonpartisan Colorado Legislative Council staff has said there are too many unknowns to accurately predict the impacts — aside from a near $1 million increase in expenses, to go along with seven new employees and an increase in fees that would generate $3 million in revenue annually.

“The measure’s future impact on tax revenue will depend on the type of regulations that state agencies and local governments implement, and the effects those regulations have on business decisions to develop oil and gas resources,” according to the Colorado Legislative Council’s fiscal report. “Since the future actions of state agencies, localgovernments and business operators are unknowable, a change in state tax revenue cannot be estimated.”

Colorado Speaker of the House KC Becker, a co-sponsor of the bill who joined local legislator Rep. Rochelle Galindo, D-Greeley, at a roundtable discussion this past Saturday, provided a statement of her own.

“Oil and gas drilling is happening in neighborhoods at unprecedented levels and if industry continues to ignore the Coloradans who are raising issues around drilling — as they have been for years — they will continue to be in the same position,” Becker said in a news release. “I’m proud of this bill and the stakeholder work that has gone into it because it will finally put health and safety first, protect our air, water and enhance our way of life.”

Karley Robinson with newborn son Quill on their back proch in Windsor, CO. A multi-well oil and gas site sits less than 100 feet from their back door, with holding tanks and combustor towers that burn off excess gases. Quill was born 4 weeks premature. Pictured here at 6 weeks old.

Here’s an opinion piece from Pete Kolbenschlag that’s running in The Aspen Daily News:

Here are some of the things that SB-181, the Public Health and Safety oil and gas reform bill, would do. That bill recently passed the state senate and is now being debated in the house.

SB-181 gives local government the ability to require additional bonding, which helps make sure that unscrupulous operators don’t leave taxpayers responsible, as has happened before.

It strengthens property rights and improves due process by reforming “force pooling” law to require a majority of owners, rather than one, to force others into a “pool” for development.

SB-181 gives local government land-use oversight , which is equivalent to the same authorities they have over other industrial operations.

It requires that a state agency doing public business put the public interest first. The new law would clarify that the COGCC mission is not to foster oil and gas development but to oversee and regulate it.

Despite these sensible reforms, like all regulations before, industry predicts SB-181 will bring devastation upon it. And by proximity, upon all of us. Regulations are “placing an intolerable burden on the economy,” and whatever benefit they may bring, the consequences will be too severe, threaten “economic chaos,” bring the possibility “entire industries could fold.”

But as familiar as this refrain, the fear-mongering around SB-181 is legion: “And then before you know it, you have a ghost town, and tourism doesn’t happen here,” one official predicted.

In the end it often is that industry gets its way — until people say enough. Then we get seat-belts, in cars that still exist; we get lead paint off shelves, that are still painted brightly; and we still have refrigerators and shelves of hair products, without ozone-killing chemicals.

Airbags did not kill the automobile (the first quote above), nor did chaos reign when we phased out CFCs (the other quotes). Similarly oil and gas will not disappear because of SB-181.

Despite all the industry hand-wringing, it’s rather simple. If a company can’t ensure its operations don’t threaten health and safety; if it needs special rules and one-of-a-kind permissions to operate; if it acts under a sense of entitlement so pervasive that a company working with a single mineral owner can force frack all the nearby owners; and if an industry cannot even provide hard financial assurances that taxpayers won’t be left holding the bag; then we don’t need that company here. Which is why we need SB-181.

Four States Agricultural Exposition recap: Plan for an uncertain future

Cortez early 1900s via Crow Canyon Archaeological Center

From The Cortez Journal (Sean Dolan):

At a local level, Cortez adopted a conservation plan in November that seeks to reduce per capita water consumption from 200 gallons per day to 180 gallons per day. The plan includes metering water users and rebates for water-efficient appliances.

“Luckily, we had a great year this year, but if we have another couple of dry years, 2020 might be when it gets a little closer,” Padgett said. “But for right now, we’re fine.”

There might not be an immediate threat, but she said the variable hydrology and declining storage at Lake Powell pose real and immediate concerns. She said it’s best to take a proactive approach to planning to avoid getting into sticky situations.

“If we do fall out of compact compliance, it’s a pretty catastrophic event, so we always want to be prepared for that worst-case scenario,” Padgett said. “These recent droughts have really made everyone aware that we need to start planning more for that uncertain future.”

February 2019 ranked fifth hottest on record for the globe — @NOAA

From NOAA:

We recently concluded the second full month of 2019, and already the year to date has turned out on the warm side.

Steady warmth around the globe made February the fifth hottest on record. Seasonally, the period from December 2018 through February 2019 ranked fourth hottest on record, according to scientists at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Here are more highlights from NOAA’s latest monthly global climate report:

Climate by the numbers
February 2019

The average global temperature in February was 1.42 degrees F above the 20th-century average of 53.9 degrees, making it the fifth-hottest of any February in the 140-year record (1880-2019). Last month was also the 43rd consecutive February and the 410 consecutive month with global temperatures above average.

The year to date I January through February

The period from January through February of this year saw a global temperature that was 1.51 degrees F above the average of 53.8 degrees. This was the fourth highest YTD on record. Much of Australia, parts of northeastern Brazil, the Southern Ocean, East China and the Barents Seas and southeastern Pacific Ocean had a record hot YTD.

Season | December through February

The seasonal temperature for the period from December 2018 through February 2019 was 1.51 degrees F above the average of 53.8 degrees, which is the fourth highest for that period.

An annotated map of the world showing notable climate events that occurred in November 2018. For details, see the short bulleted list below in our story and an more details at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201902.

Other noteworthy global climate facts and stats

  • Polar sea-ice coverage remains smaller than average: Average Arctic sea ice coverage (extent) in February was 5.9 percent below the 1981–2010 average, the seventh smallest for February on record. While sea ice extent shrunk in the Bering Sea, sea ice expanded in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk. The Antarctic sea ice extent was 13.4 percent below average, the seventh smallest for February on record.
  • Balmy sea-surface temperatures: The average February sea-surface temperature was 1.26 degrees F above the average of 60.6 degrees – the second highest global ocean temperature for February on record.
  • Loveland: @Northern_Water Spring Water Users Meeting Tuesday, April 9, 2019

    Click here to read the agenda.

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    #NewMexico wants to opt out of lawsuit against “Waters of the US” rule #WOTUS #ActOnClimate

    New Mexico Lakes, Rivers and Water Resources via Geology.com.

    From the Associated Press via The Durango Herald:

    The New Mexico Environment Department wants to withdraw from a federal lawsuit challenging Obama-era protections for waterways and wetlands across the country.

    The department filed a motion Thursday, saying the positions taken in the lawsuit are inconsistent with its stance on proposed revisions to the water rule that were issued last month by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The department says the proposed definition for waterways that would be protected under the rule would exclude most of New Mexico’s waters.

    Environment Secretary James Kenney says all water in New Mexico – from the Rio Grande to groundwater and seasonal streams – must be afforded legal protections.

    Combined with the effects of climate change, the state argues that New Mexico’s waters may become more intermittent and therefore even less protected under the proposed rule.

    2019 #COleg: Democrats in #Colorado Legislature make a move on #climatechange — The #ColoradoSprings Gazette

    Emissions trading is one example of a market-based solution to an environmental problem. Image credit: Arnold Paul/Gralo via Wikipedia.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Joey Bunch):

    On Thursday, House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Rep. Dominique Jackson, D-Aurora, introduced a bill to authorize a state plan to curb carbon and “ensure that Colorado leads on climate action.”

    Meanwhile, the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee approved a bill backed by Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, to better collect and track data on emissions.

    “People in my district depend on clean land, water and air for their personal enjoyment and livelihood, but climate change is putting that at risk,” Donovan said in a statement. “This bill is an important step towards protecting our environment while ensuring that the businesses powering our local economies can continue to operate in the years ahead.”

    The Air Quality Control Commission would collect greenhouse gas emissions data statewide for a forecast that would come with recommendations to make reductions.

    The commission would have until July 1, 2020, to get the system in place.

    Senate Bill 19-096 is sponsored in the House by Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.

    House Bill 19-1261, sponsored in the upper chamber by Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, is aimed at creating jobs and spurring innovation while cutting air pollution, the sponsors said in a news release Thursday.

    Lawmakers could put goals to reduce carbon pollution into state law, and use new rules to get industry to reduce carbon emissions, as well.

    “Climate change is real,” Becker said in a statement. “It’s happening. And we have a moral and economic imperative to act now.

    “As a mother, a defender of clean air and water, and legislator, I am committed to ensuring our state is making responsible investments in our future and working to preserve our unique quality of life. I cannot think of a more important challenge for our state to tackle than climate change.”

    The Democrats listed impacts of climate change on Colorado: poor air quality, wildfires, drought, diminished snowpack and shallow rivers, all drains on the state’s tourism-dependent economy.

    Big Thompson Canyon construction named national “Best of the Best” — The Loveland Reporter-Herald

    Damage to US 34 along the Big Thompson River September 2013. Photo credit: CDOT

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

    The reconstruction of U.S. 34 in the Big Thompson Canyon was chosen from 820 construction projects nationwide to be named Best of the Best by Engineering New Record.

    Several partners in the project — Kiewit Construction, Colorado Department of Transportation, Jacobs, the engineering firm, and a handful of subcontractors — are named on the award that was presented Friday in New York City.

    “You would not believe the projects it beat out — vertical construction, a new cadet building for the Army, other just very complicated projects,” said Doug Stremel, project manager with Jacobs.

    “It’s really exciting … It was a collaborative effort for CDOT, Kiewit and Jacobs and the others. It was a team effort. We’re happy to share in it, but it really was a collaborative effort.”

    USACE Omaha District: Corps provides updates on current levee breaches and damage assessments #Flood2019

    Here’s the release from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District (Capt. Ryan Hignight):

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District continues to work with state, local, and tribal governments to repair damaged levees from the 2019 unregulated runoff event. There are over 350 miles of levees on the Missouri, Platte and Elkhorn rivers and tributaries that have experienced significant flood damage. Due to the magnitude of damage along these levees, repair efforts will take an extended period of time. The Omaha District is initiating efforts to perform damage assessments as water recedes and access to the levee system becomes available.

    Omaha District Commander Col. John Hudson visited Pierre, South Dakota and met with state emergency management officials. They discussed flood forecasts as well as Omaha District’s ability to respond to state, county, or tribal requests for assistance. Col. Hudson also met with South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and Congressman Dusty Johnson. Col Hudson provided them with a situational update on Omaha District’s capabilities regarding the upcoming spring thaw and potential rains. He also discussed the Army Corps’ technical assistance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota concerning high flows and snow melt concerns.

    The District is sending notification to levee sponsors in the PL 84-99 program on Monday, March 25 with information on how to request damage assessment and levee repairs. Levees must be active in the Public Law 84-99 program to be eligible for repairs.

    Much of the levee system remains compromised due to the record inflows surpassing their designed protection levels.

    As of noon today, there were 47 confirmed breaches at L611-614 (South of Council Bluffs, Iowa), L-601 (South of Glenwood, Iowa), L-594 (near Fremont County, Iowa), L-575 (Fremont County, Iowa), L-550 (Atchison County, Missouri), L-536 (Atchinson County, Missouri), R-613 (Sarpy County, Nebraska), R-562 (Nemaha County, Nebraska), Western Sarpy (Ashland, Nebraska), Clear Creek (Ashland, Nebraska), Union Levee (Valley, Nebraska), and R-573 (Otoe County, Nebraska). In addition, levee 550 remains overtopping.

    The Omaha District is initiating efforts to perform damage assessments as the water recedes and access to the levee systems becomes available. The District has already begun initiating underwater surveys of scour holes along the Missouri and Platte rivers as well as collecting aerial imagery to support these efforts.

    Omaha District’s focus remains on ensuring the safety of citizens and communicating the conditions on the river systems to all of our partners and stakeholders. The Corps continues to provide flood fight assistance to state, local, and tribal government agencies.

    The Omaha District has distributed approximately 227,000 sandbags, 2,020 super sandbags, 9,930 feet of HESCO barriers, seven pumps and 21 poly rolls.

    The first source of information for citizens is their local emergency managers. For questions or concerns you can call 211, which is a national resource hotline and website geared to local area needs.

    #ColoradoRiver: [With regard to demand management], “We don’t know what voluntary, compensated and temporary means yet” — Jim Pokrandt #COriver #DCP #aridification

    From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

    After roughly seven years of work, Colorado River Compact states have reached an agreement for drought contingency plans that would maintain levels at lakes Powell and Mead.

    The contingency plans allow Colorado and the other Upper Basin states (New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) to control their own destiny, Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Anderson said.

    “It, one, gives us the right to use the storage in the Colorado River Storage Project Act reservoirs to help with the level of Lake Powell. That’s a big win,” he said…

    According to a March 19 letter the seven Colorado River Basin states sent to Congress, requesting legislation necessary to implement the new drought contingency agreement, 2018’s runoff was the second lowest since 2000 and there is no significant trend indicating these conditions will improve, even if runoff turns out to be above-average this year.

    The recent agreement needs Congress to pass legislation directing the Secretary of the Interior to implement it. Under the drought contingency plan, the Lower Basin states have agreed to a schedule of curtailments, or shortages, when levels at Mead reach certain points.

    Such trigger points are established and specific, “no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director with the Colorado River District.

    The situation is different in the Upper Basin.

    “The three legs of the stool for the Upper Basin, one leg is to increase cloud-seeding and the eradication of tamarisk. The second leg of the stool is to use the Aspinall Unit reservoir (Blue Mesa), the Navajo reservoir and the Flaming Gorge reservoir to be able to send a slug of water from one or all of the reservoirs down to Powell,” Pokrandt said.

    The involved states must now plan to determine how much water can come out of those reservoirs to bolster levels at Lake Powell, in the event the drought contingency plan needs to be enacted.

    “The third leg of the stool is a ‘plan to make a plan’ with demand-management,” Pokrandt said.

    Demand-management means reducing water use so the savings can be sent on to Lake Powell to keep the power turbines turning. For Western Colorado, this means finding a way not to use water, he said.

    “There are two key ways. One would be a mandatory curtailment, which would be an economical, social and environmental disaster for Western Colorado,” Pokrandt said.

    “The other way would be to come up with a voluntary way with producers and water users. What we call that is ‘voluntary, compensated and temporary.’ This is where we have a plan to make a plan. We don’t know what voluntary, compensated and temporary means yet.”

    At present, there is neither policy nor money for this purpose.

    “Bomb cyclone” recap via the @ColoradoClimate Center

    From the Colorado Climate Center Twitter feed:

    Last week’s “bomb cyclone” set records for low pressure and winds across eastern Colorado, including a new state record for sea level pressure. Here is our summary of the records that we’ve been able to confirm!

    Graphic credit: Colorado Climate Center

    Gail Schwartz joins a majority of women on Colorado’s state water board — @AspenJournalism

    Gail Schwartz, a resident of Basalt, is poised to represent the Colorado River basin on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. She’s the first woman to do so, and she’ll be a part of the first CWCB board, since 1937, to have a female majority. Photo credit: Gail Schwartz

    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Former state Sen. Gail Schwartz is expected Wednesday to join the board of directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency established in 1937 to protect and develop the state’s water supply.

    In doing so, Schwartz will become part of the first female majority on the CWCB board, and she’ll be the first woman to represent the Colorado River Basin on the board.

    Schwartz moved to Aspen in the early 1970s, lived in Snowmass Village when she served in the state Senate for two terms (2007 to ’15) and then moved to Crested Butte. While there, she lost to Rep. Scott Tipton in her race for Congress in 2016. She has since moved to Basalt and has now volunteered for a three-year term on the CWCB board.

    Schwartz and two other women — appointed by Gov. Jared Polis and now slated to be confirmed on March 20 by the state Senate — are expected to be sworn in Wednesday at a CWCB meeting in Fort Collins, and then six of the 10 voting members of the CWCB board will be women.

    And if the board’s five nonvoting members are added to the mix, it means eight of its 15 members will be women.

    Will a majority of women on the CWCB board help solve the water challenges facing Colorado and the Colorado River system?

    “I think it will change the conversation,” Schwartz said, noting her experience in the state Legislature, where about 40 percent of the lawmakers were, and are today, women.

    “Women are about looking for solutions,” Schwartz said. “They go into public service or elected office to serve, and it’s not a power grab, and what I found at the state level is that women are willing to compromise, they are willing to seek resolution and they draw less of a hard line on issues.”

    And Schwartz won’t be alone in making state water history this week.

    Jaclyn “Jackie” Brown of Oak Creek will become the first woman to hold the CWCB seat allocated to the Yampa, White and Green river basins in northwestern Colorado.

    Brown is the current chair of the Yampa, White and Green river-basin roundtable, and she is one of only two women on it. She also is the natural resource policy adviser for the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

    “The water industry is moving in a direction where there is more diversity,” Brown said. “And I do think that matters. I think every board does better with more diversity.”

    That said, Brown said her goal in serving on CWCB is to represent all the water users in the northwest corner of the state.

    Also joining the board this week is Jessica Brody, the general counsel for Denver Water, who will be representing the seat allocated to the city and county of Denver.

    Brody said she’s proud to follow in the footsteps of Patricia Wells, who was also the general counsel for Denver Water and served on the CWCB from 1996 to 2000 and from 2012 to this past January. She noted that Wells also was the first female city attorney for the city and county of Denver.

    And Brody will be the fourth woman to represent Denver on the CWCB board, following Wells, Barbara Biggs and Carolyn McIntosh.

    “It’s really to be celebrated that there are so many incredible women rising to prominence in this industry and in this sector,” Brody said. “Obviously, we all bring our own unique perspective, and gender may influence our perspective, but honestly, it’s just a thrill to be part of this new class and to get to share this moment with so many incredible women, and men.”

    Of the remaining six voting members on the CWCB board appointed by the state’s governor, three are women. They are Curran Trick, the first woman to represent the North Platte River Basin; Heather Dutton, the first woman to represent the Rio Grande River Basin; and Celene Hawkins, the fourth woman to represent the San Miguel, Dolores and San Juan river basins in southwestern Colorado.

    The other three appointed voting members on the CWCB are Steven Anderson, who represents the Gunnison River Basin, which has never had a female representative on CWCB; Jim Yahn of the South Platte River Basin, which has previously had two women on CWCB; and Jack Goble of the Arkansas River basin, which has not had a woman on the CWCB since Vena Pointer, who was a founding board member and served from 1937 to 1948.

    Of the nine appointed voting members, four (Schwartz, Brown, Brody and Hawkins) are Democrats, four (Curran, Dutton, Anderson and Yahn) are Republicans and one (Goble) is unaffiliated.

    There also is one ex-officio voting seat on the CWCB board reserved for the director of the Department of Natural Resources, which brings the number of voting seats to 10. Dan Gibbs now holds that seat.

    And there are five nonvoting seats, two of which are currently held by women: Rebecca Mitchell, the director of the CWCB and the agency’s second female director, and Kate Greenberg, who is the first female commissioner of agriculture in Colorado since the office was created in 1949.

    As such, here’s how the gender math works out: Six of the 10 voting members are women, and eight of the 15 members are women — a female majority in each case.

    For Mitchell, the CWCB director, the gender makeup of the board is not as important as the ability for the board members to work together to further the agency’s mission, which is “to conserve, develop, protect and manage Colorado’s water for present and future generations.”

    Still, Mitchell recognizes the gender milestone being reached.

    “It is historical, and being an engineer, the numbers are the numbers,” Mitchell said. “But it wasn’t a goal — it’s just the way it turned out.”

    However, the water sector in Colorado is still dominated by men — including many older white men — so the first female majority on the CWCB board is notable for those who follow the agency.

    “It’s about time that we have this level of representation on our most important water board in the state regarding water policy,” said Tom Cech, co-director of the One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

    He, along with William McDonald, wrote “Defend and Develop: A Brief History of the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s First 75 Years,” published in 2012.

    “I’m very pleased to see this change occurring on the CWCB because it provides a different outlook and voice to our important water issues of the day,” Cech said. “That said, our next challenge is engage more people of color in this conversation and as members of boards like the CWCB, because then we get a true voice of the people in the state of Colorado.”

    Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in the Colorado River basin in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, the Summit Daily, and the Steamboat Pilot. The Times published this story on Tuesday, March 19, 2019.

    Webinar: Invasive Mussel Genomics: Innovations for Control Methods

    Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

    Click here to go to the Invasive Mussel Collaborative website:

    This webinar is part of a miniseries on the genomics of invasive mussels hosted by the Invasive Mussel Collaborative. Part one of the miniseries covers the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s prize competition “Eradication of Invasive Mussels in Open Water.” The first prize awarded in this competition proposed a novel genetic modification-based method for control…

    Sherri Pucherelli: Invasive Mussel Prize Competition
    Steve Suhr: Eradication of Invasive Quagga and Zebra Mussels using Engineered Disseminated Neoplasia

    #Drought news: “Epic” #snowpack — @GovofCO

    From The Colorado Sun (Jessee Paul):

    The U.S. Drought Monitor reported on Thursday that there are no more extreme or exceptional drought conditions in the state, which plagued the Four Corners region after the dry 2018 winter and summer. Three months ago, nearly 30 percent of Colorado was listed under that status.

    As of Thursday’s report, only 46.13 percent of the state was listed in some kind of drought status. That’s down from 83 percent last week.

    Colorado Drought Monitor March 19, 2019.

    Gov. Jared Polis, in a Facebook live video with snow experts, called the state’s snowpack “epic.”

    Colorado Statewide Basin High/Low graph March 21, 2019 via the NRCS.

    [Joel] Gratz said the last time Colorado’s spring snowpack was anywhere near as solid was 11 years ago. But you have to go back to the 1996-97 season to really match this year’s levels.

    A wall of snow towers above the bulldozer on south Red Mountain Pass. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation)

    #RioGrande: After last year’s ‘brutal’ water conditions, forecasters and farmers keep an eye on #snowpack

    From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

    Recent storms packed the mountains of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with healthy snow levels, and meteorologists anticipate El Niño conditions will persist through the spring. This is welcome news after last year’s dry conditions. But in the long term, forecasters and farmers still remain cautious. That’s because long-term drought has dried out the state’s soils. And reservoirs remain low, particularly on the Rio Grande and its tributary, the Chama River.

    According to the most recent national drought monitor, the only extreme drought conditions in the entire nation are in San Juan County in northwestern New Mexico. Drought conditions are also building in west Texas and in New Mexico’s Lea and Eddy counties. And though El Niño conditions favor bringing precipitation to the Southwest, temperatures are expected to be above average over the next month, too.

    US Drought Monitor March 19, 2019.

    During a call earlier this week about the outlook for the Rio Grande this year, Greg Waller, service coordination hydrologist with NOAA’s West Gulf River Forecast Center, emphasized the good snowpack news, especially after last year’s “brutal” conditions. But he also noted it’s critical to pay attention to what happens next.

    Because the ground is so dry, initial snowmelt will first do the job of saturating top layers of the soil…

    Refilling empty reservoirs

    In 2018, there wasn’t any runoff to speak of on the Rio Grande, and both the river and reservoirs suffered.

    “By this time last year, we were preparing to manage drying on the river,” said Mary Carlson with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In 2018, the Rio Grande began drying in early April, when it should have been flush with snowmelt.

    Since last May, New Mexico has been under Article VII restrictions: According to the Rio Grande Compact of 1938, Colorado and New Mexico can’t store water in any of the upstream reservoirs built after 1929 when combined storage in Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs is below 400,000 acre feet. This includes Heron, El Vado and Heron reservoirs.

    As of Thursday, Elephant Butte is holding 205,000 acre feet of water, and Caballo, 28,000 acre feet.

    March reservoir storage levels in New Mexico – Office of the State Engineer via the New Mexico Political Report

    Carlson said Reclamation estimates Article VII restrictions will lift in mid-May, for about a month, until combined storage in the two reservoirs drops again below 400,000 acre feet.

    While most of New Mexico’s streams and rivers are at or above their norm for the season—even the Santa Fe River is flowing right now—most of the state’s largest reservoirs still tell the story of 2018’s historically dry and warm conditions.

    Elephant Butte Reservoir is at just 10.4 percent capacity as of Thursday, and on the Chama River, El Vado Reservoir currently holds just 25,000 acre feet of water, Heron Reservoir, 59,000 acre feet and Abiquiu Reservoir, 69,000 acre feet. For perspective, that means Heron is 15 percent full, El Vado, 14 percent and Abiquiu, just 12 percent.

    Improvement over last year

    In the Middle Rio Grande Valley, irrigation canals and ditches are already flowing, mostly to flush debris that built up over the winter and to check for leaks.

    “There has been some irrigation going on, but generally it has remained cool and damp, and we are not getting many requests for water yet,” said Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District hydrologist David Gensler. “Certainly not like last year, when it was so dry and people were desperate for water.”

    Unless something “really unexpected” happens, he said, the district anticipates a “pretty comfortable year” for irrigation in the Middle Rio Grande

    Even if New Mexico comes out of Article VII restrictions, he said the district probably won’t store much water in 2019, and they aren’t even considering the possibility of filling El Vado. That’s not just due to conditions and restrictions, he said: repairs are planned for El Vado, and managers will also need water to help support endangered species in the river, such as the Rio Grande silvery minnow

    There is a downside to anticipating this year’s runoff, he said: they’ll be watching the levees closely. The timing of snowmelt will matter, but there could be situations similar to in 2017, when there was levee seepage and bank failures. Gensler also anticipates that the Chama River below Abiquiu Reservoir will run at the channel’s capacity, causing erosion and damage to acequia intakes there…

    Southern New Mexico farmers in wait-and-see mode

    Further downstream, farmers in southern New Mexico are also watching the levels at Elephant Butte, which hit a low last September of three percent capacity.

    Elephant Butte Irrigation District (EBID) farmers will start receiving water from Caballo Reservoir at the end of May. Until then, they will have to pump groundwater if they need to irrigate.

    Currently, the district anticipates delivering to farmers six to ten inches of water per acre. But EBID hasn’t decided on final allocations yet, because their storage levels are so low, explained Phillip King, a civil engineering professor at New Mexico State University and water adviser to EBID.

    A normal allotment for EBID farmers is 36 inches per acre per year. Last year, EBID farmers received ten inches. And even in 2017, during which snowpack was robust, drought and storage conditions meant they received 24 inches.

    “While the snowpack looks promising, we don’t allocate it until it reaches the reservoir,” he said. “It is a long way from the mountain slopes of Colorado to Elephant Butte Dam.”


    ‘Pray for rain’

    Meanwhile, over on the Pecos River, the Carlsbad Irrigation District had planned to start the irrigation season by now, but they’re holding off, probably for just a few more days…

    Unlike on the Rio Grande, farmers on the Pecos have received full allotments of water in recent years—that’s about 3.7 acre feet per year. Right now, the initial allotment for this spring is set at 2.5 acre feet. “We expect that will go up,” Ballard said. “We have not yet gotten any of the snowmelt or runoff from the Sangre de Cristos into Santa Rosa Lake, so we’re just waiting to see what that will be before we increase the allotment.”

    Map of the Rio Grande watershed. Graphic credit: WikiMedia

    Floating evaporation stations deployed at Lake Powell — Desert Research Institute #aridification #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    Evaporation monitoring platform located in Padre Bay at Lake Powell. Sensors measuring wind speed and other weather parameters along with water temperature will help researchers estimate the timing and magnitude of water lost to the atmosphere. Photo credit: The Desert Research Institute

    Here’s the release from the Desert Research Institute:

    In the western United States, reservoirs are critical for storing water that can later be used by cities and for agricultural applications — but evaporation can remove a significant amount of this stored water each year.

    A new collaboration between the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. and the Technical Service Center of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation aims to improve our understanding of evaporation from Lake Powell and other major reservoirs of the western United States through the deployment of floating evaporation stations.

    The stations monitor meteorological conditions over the water and estimate evaporation using four primary methods: eddy covariance, energy balance, aerodynamic bulk mass transfer, and the combination of energy balance and aerodynamic. Data from the stations are transmitted back to the research team via a web portal for real-time monitoring.

    While there are multiple techniques used for estimating reservoir evaporation, there is little consensus on which is best for accuracy, cost, and long-term operational monitoring potential, says principal investigator Chris Pearson, Assistant Research Scientist of Hydrology at DRI.

    “A key aspect of this project is to use multiple techniques, including newer and older, more traditional methods. We’ll run them all at the same time, side by side, to see how well they agree or don’t agree,” Pearson said.

    Researcher adjusts the alignment of the inertial motion unit during installation at Lake Powell. 3-D wind measurements from the Eddy Covariance system will be corrected for pitch, roll, and yaw motion of the floating platform. Photo credit: Desert Research Institute

    Water temperatures in Lake Powell change significantly throughout the year, as snowmelt fed runoff enters from the Colorado River and other tributaries. Temperatures also vary by depth and location around the lake. Consequently, the team has deployed measuring stations at two different locations, Warm Creek and Padre Bay, where the depth of water is around 100-150 feet.

    By collecting data from multiple sites in the reservoir, the research team will learn about how evaporation rates vary both spatially and temporally throughout the year. The end goal, says Pearson, is to help scientists and water managers make accurate evaporation estimates using best available science – both at Lake Powell and elsewhere in the world.

    “Eventually we’d like to integrate these data with satellite and gridded climate products, so we can provide accurate estimates with minimal instrumentation in the field, but collecting reliable and accurate benchmark in-situ data is the first step.” Pearson said.

    This project is made possible with funding from the Bureau of Reclamation. Other members of the project team include Justin Huntington, Ph.D. (DRI, co-principal investigator), Brad Lyles (DRI), Richard Jasoni, Ph.D. (DRI), Mark Spears, P.E. (Reclamation, senior project lead), Dan Broman, Ph.D. (Reclamation), and Kathleen Holman, Ph.D. (Reclamation).

    2019 #COleg: SB19-096 (Collect Long-term Climate Change Data) #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The Four Corners methane hotspot is yet another environmental climate and public health disaster served to our community by industry. But now that we’ve identified the sources we can begin to hold those responsible accountable for cleaning up after themselves. The BLM methane rule and EPA methane rule are more clearly essential than ever. Photo credit: San Juan Citizens Alliance

    From The Cortez Journal (Ryan Maye Handy):

    Effort worries coal counties on Western Slope; seen as duplicate by some

    Lawmakers gave initial approval to a bill Thursday that orders the state to expand its tracking and possibly regulations of greenhouse gas emissions through 2050, an effort to buck the Trump administration’s disinterest in tackling climate change.

    Colorado has been tracking greenhouse gas emissions by sector since 2008, but Senate Bill 096 greatly expands an existing effort by the Air Quality Control Commission. Under the bill, the commission would collect data and propose rules to address emissions by July 2020. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be required to collect annual greenhouse gas data by sector and publish it; the department would also be required to forecast emissions through 2050.

    The bill’s opponents say it would generate more regulations that could push coal-fired power plants closer to extinction, killing jobs and further raising electricity costs on the Western Slope…

    …Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, the bill’s sponsor, said the measure would help Colorado reach its 2025 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least a quarter. It would also ensure that greenhouse gas emission data would not depend on the federal government, which under President Donald Trump has abandoned its commitment to the Paris climate change accords.

    The bill passed the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee on a party-line vote of 5-2; it now heads to the Appropriations Committee…

    Southwest Colorado greenhouse gas emissions attracted global attention in 2014, when NASA scientists discovered a 2,500-square-mile methane cloud over the Four Corners caused in part by natural gas production. Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

    Even as Colorado grapples with methane emissions from oil and gas operations and a power mix still mostly reliant on coal, Sen. Ray Scott, a Mesa County Republican, questioned why SB 096 would have the state spend nearly $2 million to duplicate data already being tracked by the federal agencies and local universities.

    Monte Vista Crane Festival 2019

    Greater Sandhill Cranes in flight over the San Luis Valley. The annual Monte Vista Crane Festival takes place during March each year. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

    From Colorado Outdoors Magazine (Crystal Egli):

    I’ve known for awhile that a crane’s diet consists of crop waste grain such as corn, wheat, barley, oats, as well as snails, crayfish, insects, small vertebrates and the eggs of other birds, but what I observed over the next hour was completely unexpected. The cranes used their elongated beaks to root around for potatoes, with great enthusiasm. At first I thought they were just slicing them into smaller and smaller pieces in order to eat them – which some of them were, but then I saw one throw back an entire potato and swallow it whole. Then another, and another. I pressed record.

    The sandhill cranes were swallowing potatoes whole like a pelican eating a fish! After years of capturing footage of the cranes flying in and out of fields, it was quite interesting and unexpected to witness a behavior I had never before observed in this species.

    Lessons Learned
    I am so glad I got the courage to ask the landowner for permission to access their land. My trip was shaping up to be pretty fowl but by the end I was happy as a lark. I think next year I’ll time my visit for the heart of the festival when there are guided tours lead by birding professionals, volunteers to ask for advice and help, fellow birders to compare notes with and a craft fair to chill at instead of brooding in my hotel lobby. Honestly, the festival is a hoot. If you’ve never been to one before I highly recommend it– maybe I’ll see you there next year! We’re always looking to add more crane enthusiasts to our flock.

    @CWCB_DNR: March 2019 #Drought Update

    From the Colorado Water Conservation Board/Colorado Division of Water Resources (Ben Wade):

    In response to persistent and prolonged drought conditions throughout the southern half of the state and along the western border, ​the C​olorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan​ was activated for the agricultural sector​ ​on May 2, 2018​, additional counties in northwest Colorado were added in September and activation remains in effect; information can be found HERE​.

    February and March-to-date have both seen impressive snow accumulation statewide, but especially in the southern half of the state where snowpack is currently above 150 percent of normal for all basins. This persistent moisture and near normal temperatures has resulted in significant drought improvements across the region. We will continue to monitor throughout the snow melt season to determine inflows to reservoirs and streamflow levels. Post wildfire flooding remains a concern and will be closely monitored. The daily flood threat bulletin can be accessed May 1 through September 30 ​HERE​.

  • As of March 19th, exceptional drought (D4) and extreme drought (D3) have been entirely removed from Colorado. Severe drought covers just 0.63 percent of the state while moderate drought covers an additional six percent. Forty percent of the state is currently experiencing abnormally dry conditions, a significant improvement in recent weeks. Most of the western slope has seen three and even four class improvements in drought conditions since the start of the water year (see image below).
  • El Niño conditions are now present, and will likely continue through spring (80 percent chance) and even summer (60 percent chance) of this year. Historically spring during an El Niño event trends toward wetter conditions, and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlooks for April, and for the April-May-June period show increased chances of wetter-than-average conditions, with less confidence in the temperature outlook.
  • SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 142 percent of average with all basins well above average. The highest snowpack is in the Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan at 158 percent of median, while the lowest is tied with both the Yampa-White and the North Platte at 128 percent of median (see image below).
  • Many basins, as well as the state as a whole are near maximum observed snowpack for this time of year and short term forecasts indicate that an active storm pattern is likely to remain.
  • Reservoir storage, statewide remains at 83 percent of normal but is expected to increase as soon as the runoff season begins. The South Platte, Colorado, and Yampa-White, all above 90 percent of average as of March 1st. Storage in the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins are at 87 and 78 percent of normal, respectively. The Southwest basins of the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan, and Gunnison remain the lowest in the state at 58 and 63 percent of normal, respectively.
  • Streamflow forecasts are near to above normal statewide and have been steadily increasing in recent weeks. As a result the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center has adjusted their April-July unregulated inflow forecasts as follows: Blue Mesa Reservoir 960 KAF (142% of average) a 32 percent of average increase, McPhee Reservoir 480 KAF (163% of average) a 51 percent of average increase. The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 9.50 MAF (133% of average) an increase of 2.2 million acre-feet or 31% of average.
  • The ​Drought Visualization Tool​ is now live; please take a minute to provide feedback on this tool ​HERE​.
  • The latest #ENSO diagnostic discussion is hot off the presses from the IRI/CPC

    Click here to read the discussion.

    ENSO Alert System Status: El Niño Advisory

    Synopsis: Weak El Niño conditions are likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2019 (~80% chance) and summer (~60% chance).

    El Niño conditions strengthened during February 2019, as above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) increased across the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the associated atmospheric anomalies became increasingly well-defined. The SST index values in the Niño3, Niño3.4 and Niño4 regions all increased during February, with the latest weekly values near +1C in each region. The anomalous upper-ocean heat content (averaged across 180°-100°W) increased appreciably during February, due to an increase in above-average temperatures at depth in association with a downwelling equatorial oceanic Kelvin wave. Enhanced equatorial convection prevailed near the Date Line, while suppressed convection was observed over Indonesia. Low-level wind anomalies were westerly in the central Pacific Ocean, while upper-level wind anomalies were mostly westerly over the far western and far eastern Pacific. The equatorial and traditional Southern Oscillation Index values were both negative (-1.4 standard deviations). Overall, these features are consistent with weak El Niño conditions.

    The majority of models in the IRI/CPC plume predict a Niño 3.4 index of +0.5C or greater through the Northern Hemisphere early autumn 2019. Given the recent downwelling Kelvin wave, and the increase in both the SSTs and subsurface ocean temperatures, most forecasters expect positive SST anomalies to persist across the central and eastern Pacific for at least the next several months. During that time, forecasters predict the SST anomalies in the Niño 3.4 region to remain between +0.5C and +1.0C, indicating weak El Niño conditions. However, because forecasts made during spring tend to be less accurate, the predicted chance that El Niño will persist beyond summer is currently about 50%. In summary, weak El Niño conditions are likely to continue through the Northern Hemisphere spring 2019 (~80% chance) and summer (~60% chance); click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period.

    The latest seasonal outlooks are hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center #drought

    Seasonal temperature outlook through June 30.2019 via the Climate Predication Center.
    Seasonal precipitation outlook through June 30.2019 via the Climate Predication Center.
    Seasonal drought outlook through June 30.2019 via the Climate Predication Center.

    #Drought news: N. and E. #Colorado return to mostly normal conditions in wake of wet February and March

    Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

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


    A historic major winter storm impacted much of the country this past week with blizzard conditions, category-2 hurricane-force winds, heavy rain, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooding. Funnel clouds and tornadoes were seen in south central Arizona and southeastern New Mexico. Up to a foot of snow fell across the Denver, Colorado, area, while up to two feet fell over southeastern Wyoming, western Nebraska, and into southwestern and central South Dakota. To the south, thunderstorms rolled across Texas and parts of the lower Mississippi River Valley into the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys, including eastern Arkansas, southwestern Tennessee, and northwestern Mississippi. Heavy rainfall melted snow and led to flooding from Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota to the western Great Lakes. Much of the South, however, from southern Texas eastward, missed out on most of the precipitation and conditions continue to dry…

    High Plains

    Most of the High Plains were impacted by a major winter storm early in the drought week that brought blizzard conditions, heavy rain, and dangerous flooding. Except for the western region where abnormally dry conditions (D0) are present, the remainder of Colorado saw widespread improvement, due to the recent storm and a generally very active weather pattern since February that has left excellent snowpack, with much of the north half and east returning to normal conditions. Severe drought (D2) shrank significantly in the southern part of the state. With heavy snow–one to two feet in areas–abnormally dry conditions were alleviated across most of the western Nebraska panhandle and in eastern and southern Wyoming…


    Last week, California emerged from drought conditions for the first week since December 11, 2011, breaking its 376-week streak. Reservoirs continue to slowly replenish in areas of the state still experiencing abnormal dryness (D0) and no further changes were made here. However, areas of abnormal dryness and drought continued to decline in other western states this week, due to recent above-average precipitation and excellent snowpack conditions at higher elevations. Arizona and New Mexico in particular saw widespread 1-category improvements. Notably, exceptional drought (D4, the worst category depicted on the drought map) was eliminated and extreme drought (D3) broadly contracted in northern New Mexico. In Oregon, the small area of severe drought (D2) in Deschutes County was eliminated. Moderate drought in the rest of the state remains unchanged as temperatures begin to warm and soil moisture is still dry when considering conditions over the past year or so. In contrast to other parts of the West, western Washington and along the northern coast of Oregon have seen below-normal precipitation over the past few months on average and stream flows are quite low here, even record low in some places. Abnormally dry conditions were expanded across this area. Reports indicate that the dry weather has caused an increase in brush fires in Whatcom, Mason, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, and Clark Counties in Washington…


    Heavy precipitation from a major storm system on the 13th fell over abnormally dry (D0) and drought areas in western Oklahoma and northern and central Texas, where conditions widely improved by 1 category, and even 2 categories from western Swisher County northeastward to western Gray County. Those areas received enough rainfall to alleviate deficits at both long- and short-term time scales. The precipitation largely missed southern parts of Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Abnormally dry conditions spread from southern Alabama into the southeastern corner of Mississippi and an area was introduced from the southwest corner of the state southwestward through Lafayette Parish to the northern tip of Vermillion Parish near the Gulf of Mexico. Dryness and drought expanded eastward in southern Texas, and three pockets of severe drought (D2) were introduced: two center on Zavala and Atascosa Counties and one area sits on the border of Jim Hogg and Starr Counties in the far south…

    Looking Ahead

    Over the week beginning Tuesday, March 19, according to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, light rain is generally expected over much of the contiguous United States, with regional and localized amounts of around an inch or so anticipated across several states, from California to Arkansas, along with most of the eastern seaboard from North Carolina to Maine. Already dry areas in the Southeast are expected to continue to dry. Looking further ahead to March 25-29, there is a high probability Alaska will see above-average temperatures and precipitation. The central contiguous U.S. and Pacific Northwest may also see above-average temperatures, while most of California, eastern Nevada, and the Northeast may have below-average temperatures. This timeframe may also be wetter than average across most of the region, with the exception of the upper Northeast and northern Michigan. Please note the forecast confidence for this period is below average.

    US Drought Monitor one week change map through March 19, 2019.