@USGS: Say Hello to the 150th Anniversary of the Powell Expedition website

The Powell-Ingalls Special Commission meeting with Southern Paiutes. Photo credit: USGS

Click here to visit the website.

Welcome to the Powell150 education and outreach site! Bookmark the page now and check back soon for additional resources and information about upcoming events related to the 150th anniversary of the 1869 Powell Expedition.

#Snowpack news: All basins have hit an early peak above average, the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan are the best in state = 155% of average

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

And here’s the Westwide basin-filled map for April 1, 2019 via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 1, 2019 via the NRCS.

And just for grins here’s a gallery of early April snowpack maps from the NRCS.

Setting fires in the forest — the story behind the smoke – News on TAP

U.S. Forest Service teams up with Mile High Youth Corps to protect Denver Water’s priority watersheds.

Source: Setting fires in the forest — the story behind the smoke – News on TAP

Leaning in to the challenge of climate change – News on TAP

Denver Water aggressively addressing ‘here and now’ of warming climate.

Source: Leaning in to the challenge of climate change – News on TAP

Farmington: San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas to report at meeting Wednesday (April 3, 2019) that the recent outage for the #CementCreek water treatment plant did not impact water quality

Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

From The Farmington Daily Times:

Officials will hear confirmation from the county’s emergency management manager on Wednesday that contaminated water recently released from the Gold King Mine did not adversely impact water quality downstream in the Animas River.

San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas will speak about the mine’s status in his presentation to the San Juan Water Commission during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Juan Water Commission Office Building, 7450 E. Main St. in Farmington.

The presentation will serve as an update for county water commissioners on the Gold King Mine spill of 2015, and what has happened since then.

The mine, near Silverton, Colorado, created concerns for water quality this winter when storms and avalanche danger cut off access to the facility that treats water draining from the mine.

The facility also lost power at that time, causing untreated water to bypass the plant and drain into Cement Creek for 48 hours.

#Snowpack news: The #YampaRiver Valley is seeing earlier snowmelt as #Colorado warms

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 31, 2019 via the NRCS.

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C Hassenback):

An earlier spring
Though having a lot of snow is generally good for the water year, the type and timing of the snow also impacts the western cycle of water.

“It’s not just amount of snowpack we have that is critical, it’s also the type of precipitation we’re receiving, especially in the winter — whether we’re getting rain or snow,” said Orla Bannan, in a Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Talking Green event. Bannan works with water scarcity as strategic engagement manager for the conservation organization Western Resource Advocates in its Healthy Rivers Program.

She added when snow melts is critical, and “we’re seeing changes there.”

Springtime has sprung earlier and earlier in the Yampa Valley, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Services’ snow telemetry sites. Snowpack is reaching its peak and melting off earlier in the season. Dust on snowy, windy and sunny days can all increase how quickly snow melts off the mountains.

When that early snowmelt runs off into the streams that feed into the Yampa and Elk Rivers, the rivers also peak earlier. This has impacts to everyone who uses Yampa water.

When the river peaks early, flows can rush by before producers’ crops are ready to use them. The river level appropriate for river recreation in town can fall by early summer, closing the river at the hottest time of the year when many would like to be paddling, fishing or tubing down it. When flows are low, the river is also more likely to warm to temperatures that are unhealthy for trout and other aquatic species.

These changes are forecasted to continue, largely driven by warming global temperatures as human impacts continue to create a hotter atmosphere, according to the 2019 National Climate Assessment, a report authored by several federal agencies and reviewed by members of the National Academy of Sciences.

“In the last 50 years, Colorado has seen greater amounts of precipitation as rainfall as opposed to snowfall, and then snowmelt and subsequent peak flows have shifted by weeks,” Bannan said. “So, we’re already seeing those changes.”

Across the West, states with water cycles reliant on snow are seeing smaller snowpack, with a greater decline at lower elevations, Bannan said. Higher temperatures also intensify droughts as more water evaporates from streams and both crops and wild plant species use more water to grow in hot sun.

Longterm drought
One good year is not enough to mitigate the impacts of a decade of dry years, Bannan said.

Locally, Routt County was only pulled out of drought conditions last week, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor. Before snowmelt hits the streams, it will first soak into dry soil. While snowpack is above average, river forecasters are still predicting near-average flows in the Yampa.

As of Sunday, snowpack in the Yampa Valley contained 125 percent of its normal snow water equivalent, according to the NRCS, but the National Weather Service is forecasting flows in the Yampa River in April through July to be much closer to average — 91 percent of average at Stagecoach Reservoir and 100 percent in Steamboat Springs.

The Yampa is also part of a much larger watershed, flowing into the Green River and then the Colorado River, and then into Utah, Arizona and Mexico. Colorado is legally obligated to send a portion of its water — including Yampa River water — to downstream states in the form of an annual contribution to Lake Powell.

In recent years, below average water years have increased concern that Colorado won’t contribute enough water to Lake Powell to meet its legal obligations. Should that happen, an interstate call would be administered, requiring water users in Colorado to reduce use to send more water downstream to meet its obligations.

Just as upcoming flows in the Yampa are predicted to be slighter than its snowpack, flows in the Colorado River are predicted to be slighter than its snowpack, meaning the state needs several more good years to soothe water managers worries for Lake Powell.

“We’re going to have a normal year for Lake Powell,” Bannan said. “It’s going to go up a little bit, but it’s not going to go up a lot. It would take an awful lot of wet years for that reservoir to really recover.”

Statewide, water managers are working to plan how to divvy up water should Colorado be required to curtail water use due to an interstate call.

On the Yampa, the city and other partners are working to make the river more resilient to a changing climate. Kelly Romero-Heaney, water resources manager for the city of Steamboat Springs, explained programs to restore trees along the riverbanks will eventually help shade the river, preventing evaporation and temperature increase due to the heat from the sun’s rays. This will allow more of that water to make it downstream.

The city has also partnered with the Colorado Water Trust to increase flows in the river, and a new endowed fund set to launch later this year will help fund river management in the future.

“When it comes to the Yampa River, we don’t exactly know what to expect year-to-year, but we know that if we give the Yampa the ingredients it needs — like conserved lands, flowing water, restored riparian forests — then we’ve done the best we can do to at least help our rive buffer our self against the extremes we have coming our way,” Romero-Heaney said.

2019 #COleg: Current version of SB19-207 (FY 2019-20 Long Bill) still includes funding for #COWaterPlan

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado lawmakers, citing lower revenue forecasts and competing needs, have dramatically reduced proposed funding for the Colorado Water Plan and Colorado River drought work, providing roughly one-third of what Gov. Jared Polis had requested in his budget for this year.

This year, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the agency charged with overseeing the state water plan and developing the Colorado River drought contingency plan, said it would have $30 million to work with as a result of the governor’s request.

Of that, $20 million would be used to pursue work on a historic, multiyear initiative to find ways to reoperate reservoirs and voluntarily cut back water use to relieve pressure on the drought-stricken Colorado River. The rest would go toward grants to fund entities across the state that are working to implement the Colorado Water Plan.

But lawmakers aren’t required to honor all budget requests from governors, and Joint Budget Committee members said they would provide just $10 million.

That appropriation leaves intact the $1.7 million the Colorado Water Conservation Board had budgeted this year to do public outreach and technical studies for the drought contingency plan.

The rest, $8.3 million, will be used to fund water plan grants over the next three years and comes in addition to the annual funding toward water plan implementation that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been providing from its budget.

Even with the reduction, state officials said they are pleased that, for the first time since it was finalized in 2015, general fund money is being dedicated to the water plan.

Polis’ office said the new general fund allocation is an important step forward.

“There is always more work to do, but we are excited the JBC has provided unprecedented general funds to make progress toward the state’s water plan,” the office said in a statement.

Rebecca Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said the reduction in funds is manageable. “The $1.7 million we had expected for this year is still there. And we have $8.3 million for the water plan. With that, we feel like we can still move forward.”

Two weeks ago, the Colorado Water Conservation Board formally approved the drought contingency plan effort and expects to begin recruiting people to serve on several public drought work groups this week…

Colorado water leaders have been pleading with the state to move quickly on the drought contingency plan to ensure there is some protection should Colorado and its neighboring states in the Upper Colorado River Basin be unable to meet legal obligations to deliver water to Arizona, California and Nevada.

This year’s task is to determine if there is an equitable way to cut back on water use, where and how those cutbacks would occur, how to measure the reductions and how to protect the environment, local economies and the legal rights of water users while the drought plan is in effect. Up to 500,000 acre-feet of the water saved through such efforts, known as demand management, could be stored in Lake Powell via the new seven-state drought agreement.

Despite the need for action, Andy Mueller, general manager of the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, said the enormity of crafting a statewide demand management plan requires that the state be prudent in data gathering and analysis.

“If you do the math on voluntary, compensated demand management, you know it will cost tens of millions of dollars a year to run. That is a frightening concept, but in a complex situation like this, where there are so many multifaceted components, you have to plan.”

Financing water projects in Colorado has rarely been easy, particularly in small, rural communities or when there is no clear connection to taxpayers. After finalizing the Colorado Water Plan in 2015, officials estimated the state would need roughly $100 million a year to fully fund it and help close the gap on water shortages the state is likely to face by 2030.

Four years later, though, little progress has been made on securing a permanent funding source, although several nonprofits, such as the Walton Family Foundation, together with the state’s Interbasin Compact Committee are exploring funding options, including a possible ballot initiative in coming years. The committee represents the state’s eight major river basins plus the Denver metro area and was involved in the Colorado Water Plan’s development.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Marianne Goodland):

The state Senate on Thursday adopted Colorado’s $30.5 billion budget, often termed the “long bill,” for 2019-20 and sent it on to the state House for the next step.

The budget includes a last-minute compromise between Senate Democrats and Republicans, who have been at war for the past two weeks in an effort to delay action on items like the “red flag” bill and other measures.

The compromise added $106 million to the state’s transportation funding, using existing general fund revenues. With that addition, the Colorado Department of Transportation might have $336 million in one-time money available for road and bridge projects. That amendment still must be adopted by the House in order to be included in the final budget.

Despite the compromise, lawmakers indicated they are nervous about the prospects of another recession and what it could do to the state budget. That included Joint Budget Committee Chair and Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, who noted a recent revenue forecast “erased” $250 million in expected revenues, due to a growing economic slowdown.

The budget did not increase the state’s rainy-day fund, which would help weather such a downturn. As passed by the Senate, the rainy-day fund is at 7.25 percent of general fund revenue, or about $843 million. However, economists have warned that Colorado needs a rainy-day fund at least double that amount to survive even a moderate recession. A slowdown like 2008’s Great Recession would require $2 billion, according to a George Mason University study from a couple of years ago.

While most of the budget package sailed through, one bill drew more opposition than one might expect. Senate Bill 212 puts $10 million in general fund revenue into continued implementation of the state water plan. But that’s $20 million less than was sought by the previous administration (Gov. Jared Polis didn’t say one way or the other how he felt about it) and for the first time tapped general fund dollars, rather than severance tax revenues.