Gib Hazard retires after 31 years on Southeastern #Colorado Water Conservancy District Board

Bill Long with Gib Hazard. Photo credit: Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Here’s the release from the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Chris Woodka):

The second-longest serving director of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District Board, Gibson Hazard Jr., retired [April 18, 2019] after 31 years of service.

Gibson Hazard Jr., of Colorado Springs, joined the board on April 21, 1988. At his last meeting, fellow board members gave him a rousing send off.

“To put that in perspective, Ronald Reagan was president when you joined the board and gas was 98 cents,” quipped Bill Long, district president. “Since the district was formed (in 1958), we’ve had 72 board members and Gib has served with 47, which is quite an accomplishment. This includes our longest serving board member, (the late) Frank Milenski.”

Hazard served as secretary of the board, and represented El Paso County.

“You worked for the good of the district, which was always important,” Long told Hazard.

Hazard was raised on a ranch in southern Arizona, and graduated from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. He was a founding member of the Colorado Water Protective and Development Association, which is now the largest water augmentation group in the Arkansas Valley.

Hazard also served as manager of the 5,000-acre King-Barrett Ranch and Farm operation in Crowley County before it was sold to the Foxley Cattle Co.

The District presented Hazard an Excellence of Service award.

El Paso County has five members on the 15-member board. Members are appointed by district judges.

“We want to understand the impacts of retreating glaciers, degradation of permafrost and changes in snowpack” — Heidi Steltzer

San Juan wildflowers.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Heidi Steltzer, an associate professor of biology at FLC, said the study is headed by the International Panel on Climate Change, an intergovernmental arm of the UN that assesses the risks and impacts of climate change around the world and possible response actions.

“We want to understand the impacts of retreating glaciers, degradation of permafrost and changes in snowpack,” she said. “It’s pretty significant in any ecosystem to be snow-covered or not snow-covered, and we want to attribute changes in the mountains directly to those three things.”

For this report, there was no on-the-ground research, Steltzer said. Instead, statements and conclusions have to be supported by a peer review scientific publication from the past five years. She has enlisted the help of two FLC students in gathering all the information.

“Ultimately, the goal is to find as many papers as possible that are review articles that show a pattern,” she said. “So we can show it’s not just happening in one mountain region. It’s happening in many.”

Steltzer has been a mountain scientist since 1994. She earned her Bachelor of Science in biology at Duke University and a doctorate in ecosystem ecology from the University of Colorado-Boulder. She joined the FLC faculty in 2009 and has led field studies in Colorado, Greenland and Alaska.

She said living in the San Juan Mountains and being able to study the environment firsthand has helped her understanding of climate change’s impact on the ecosystem.

“We grow our intuition in science by living where we do our research,” she said.

Across Colorado, snowpack has declined 20% to 60% since the 1950s, according to the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, with the snow season now 34 days shorter than historic norms…

Just last summer, during the extreme drought in Southwest Colorado, Steltzer went out to see how the absence of snowpack affects wildflowers. By early July, most flowers had already bloomed, she said, and were past their peak far too early.

#Drought news: D1 (Moderate Drought) erased from most of #Colorado but is still hanging on along the #NewMexico border, one category improvements across most of #NM

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:

This Week’s Drought Summary

A series of storm systems moved quickly across the lower 48 States until reaching the East Coast as a strong ridge of high pressure over the western Atlantic Ocean blocked their eastward progression. Due in part to this slowdown, severe weather and heavy rainfall occurred in portions of the southern Great Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, Southeast, and mid-Atlantic during April 17-19. Moderate to heavy precipitation (1.5-4 inches) also occurred over the western Great Lakes region, Tennessee and central Ohio Valleys, parts of New England, and northwestern Washington. Light to moderate precipitation (0.5-2 inches) was widespread in the Northwest, eastern Great Basin, northern and southern thirds of the Rockies, northern Plains, and the eastern third of the Nation. Only portions of the Southwest, central Rockies and Plains, and western Corn Belt saw little or no precipitation. Weekly temperatures averaged above-normal for much of the contiguous U.S., except for subnormal readings across the Southeast and western and southern Alaska. Light to moderate precipitation along the southern and southeastern Alaskan Coast and light showers on the windward side of the Hawaiian Islands maintained conditions in both states. Changes were made in Puerto Rico as spotty heavy showers provided some relief to short-term D0 and D1 areas, but where the rains missed, some deterioration occurred.

With near- to record wetness in many parts of the country this winter and in 2018, the April 16 USDM had the lowest percent of area in drought (D1-D4) for the lower 48 States (3.73%) and all 50 States (3.78%) since the inception of the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2000, surpassing the previous low drought standard of May 23, 2017. In fact, no dryness/drought (D0-D4) in both the lower 48 (85.88%) and all 50 States (87.06%) also set record low values last week. With more wet weather over D0-D2 areas this week, new USDM record lows will most-likely be set…

High Plains

A fairly large area of light to moderate precipitation (0.5-1.5 inches) was observed across most of Montana, southern North Dakota, western and southeastern South Dakota, Wyoming, and western and northeastern Nebraska. Southern Kansas also received some decent rains (0.5-2.5 inches), as did southern Colorado (0.5-1.5 inches). The precipitation in Colorado was enough to improve D1 to D0 (see West summary with respect to New Mexico). In southwestern Wyoming, the additional precipitation boosted WYTD average basin precipitation and SWE to 112% and 123%, respectively, thus D1 and D0 was shrunk. In northern Wyoming, 0.5-1.5 inches of precipitation was enough to create WYTD and YTD surpluses near the northern and southern D0 edges, thus erasing some of the D0. However, the D1 in the Bighorn Mountains remained intact as both WYTD basin average precipitation and SWE still stayed around 75% of normal. In contrast, extreme northern Montana and North Dakota have missed out on the precipitation, and at 60-days, only 25-50% of normal precipitation has fallen, leading to deficits of 0.5-1.5 inches. In addition, a rapid snow melt during mid-March left much of the water to run off instead of percolating into the still frozen subsoil, thus D0(S) was added. Longer time periods were wet, but since this is the start of the wet season, it is critical that timely and adequate rains fall during the next few months for agricultural interests. Short-term (2-3 months) deficits in central Kansas were also accumulating, but large longer-term surpluses have kept D0 from developing so far…


Additional Pacific moisture spread across the Northwest, dropping light to moderate amounts (0.5-1.5 inches) on coastal Washington, the Cascades, northern Rockies, and the central Great Basin (eastern Nevada, western and northern Utah). As a result, some D0 was erased from central Oregon, northern Olympic Peninsula (Washington), and extreme northwestern Washington, while a bit of D1 (west edge) was improved in the extreme northern Cascades. From field reports of excessive moisture & standing water in northwestern and northeastern Utah (since station data can be scarce), D1 and D0 was improved by 1-category in the state and adjacent southwestern Wyoming. WYTD basin average precipitation and SWE are both well above normal as of April 23. Even New Mexico (and southern Colorado) received beneficial precipitation (0.5-2 inches) late in the period. For New Mexico, a reassessment was made based upon short-term (WYTD) wetness vs long-term (several years) drought, plus this week’s precipitation. With many SNOTEL WYTD basin average precipitation and SWE above normal, and most USGS stream flows at or above normal with good inflows into reservoirs, 1-cat improvements were made across most of the state, with the lone D2 area remaining in the northwest where ground observations confirmed worse conditions than the rest of the state. Although this WY has been quite favorable for New Mexico, multi-year strong summer monsoons and additional wet winters will be needed to make a full hydrologic recovery…


Two different storm systems brought welcome precipitation to the South. Early in the period, central and eastern Texas and the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valleys received widespread moderate to heavy rains (1.5-3 inches, locally to 6 inches) that erased much of the short-term D1 and D0 in central Texas, eastern Louisiana, and southwestern Mississippi. The few areas that received less than an inch of rain, or where 60- to 90-day significant deficits still remained, were left unchanged. In contrast, parts of west-central Texas (Edwards Plateau) missed out on the rain, and some slight D1 and D0 expansion was made here, and additionally in northern Webb County. The second system which occurred late in the period dropped beneficial precipitation on the southern Rockies (New Mexico mountain snows) and south-central Plains (Texas Panhandle and west-central Oklahoma), easing dryness and drought there (see West for New Mexico). Some short-term (2-3 months) dryness was found in northern and central Oklahoma, but longer-term wetness has kept D0 development at bay so far. Elsewhere in the South, overall wet conditions prevailed…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (April 25-29, 2019), two systems are expected to provide precipitation to the lower 48 States. One system will track from the southern Rockies northeastward into New England, bringing moderate to heavy rain(1-4 inches) and severe weather to the southern Plains, lower Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio Valleys, and Northeast, with another system moving southeastward out of southwest Canada across the northern Rockies and Plains, Midwest, and eastern Great Lakes region, dropping light to moderate totals (0.5-2 inches). Little or no precipitation is expected in the Far West, Southwest, south-central Plains, far upper Midwest, and along the southern Atlantic Coast. Temperatures should average below-normal across the northern third of the U.S., near normal in the Southeast, and above-normal in the Southwest.

The CPC 6-10 day extended range outlook (April 30-May 4, 2019) favors above-normal precipitation odds across much of the central U.S., from the Rockies eastward to the Appalachians, in western and northern Alaska, with subnormal totals likely along the West Coast and in southeastern Alaska, with near-normal chances elsewhere. Subnormal temperatures are likely in the North-Central States while chances of above-normal readings are favored in the Southeast and western Alaska.

Here’s the one week change map from the US Drought Monitor.

One week change map through April 23, 2019.

Photo gallery: Durango and Silverton railroad clears path for first ride May 4

Photo credit:

Ride along with Jonathan Romeo from The Durango Herald to see what the operators of the Durango narrow gauge railroad are working against to clear the route to Silverton. Here’s an excerpt:

The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, with the help of Durango-based Bonds Construction, has cleared the 45-mile track from Durango to Silverton.

Bonds Construction posted to its Facebook page this week that crews plowed through 42 avalanche/slide areas over the course of 14 miles in the past few weeks. As a result, the tracks were cleared two weeks ahead of schedule…

The D&SNG’s route from Durango to Silverton doesn’t encounter true avalanche danger until it reaches Cascade Canyon, about 26 miles north of the train station in Durango. From there, north to Silverton, eight to 10 avalanche paths can reach the railroad tracks.

But this year, crews saw avalanche paths slide that had never been witnessed running before. One particular avalanche was near Needleton, which put 60 feet of debris on the tracks.

By all accounts, the D&SNG will be ready to make its first round-trip from Durango to Silverton on May 4.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife: Ribbon cutting at Watson Lake fish ladder rescheduled for May 1

Water courses through the new fish passage at Watson Lake State Wildlife Area. The passage allows fish to swim up and down the river past a diversion dam. Photo credit: Northern Water

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the completion of the fish ladder at Watson Lake has been rescheduled and will now take place on May 1 at 11 a.m.

It was originally set for April 12, but due to inclement weather during that week, was postponed.

Watson Lake is located in Bellvue, Colo., just west of Laporte, on Rist Canyon Road.

More Information:
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) along with funding partners noosa yoghurt, Northern Water, Morning Fresh Dairy, Poudre Heritage Alliance and Trout Unlimited will celebrate the completion of the fish ladder at Watson Lake.

The collaborative project is helping to reconnect a fragmented Poudre River. The stretch contains important spawning habitat and deep pools that provide refuge for aquatic life. This Watson Lake fish ladder is reconnecting over two river miles. The group hopes this will be one of many ladders along the Poudre River that will allow fish to travel freely upstream and downstream, improving the health of the fishery and the ecosystem without impacting water delivery.

Noosa yoghurt has been heavily involved with the project from its inception in 2016, funding the conceptual design in 2017. The vision for noosa has always been to give back to the community in a meaningful way.

“The Poudre River is a treasure in Northern Colorado,” said Stephanie Giard, community outreach coordinator for noosa yoghurt. “The project area is frequently visited by neighbors in the Pleasant Valley for fishing, birdwatching, or just enjoying nature. It is our responsibility to protect this valuable resource in our community.”

Watson Lake Diversion Structure is a channel spanning structure that represented a complete barrier to all upstream fish movement in the Poudre River. The structure delivers water to the Watson State Fish Hatchery and is owned and operated by CPW. The new fish ladder allows for passage through the diversion for all species present within the river reach including longnose dace, longnose suckers, white suckers, brown trout, and rainbow trout.

Designed by OneFish Engineering and built by L4 Environmental, the fish ladder at the Watson Diversion was completed in record time. Biologists and engineers from across CPW came together to work with OneFish Engineering to find the optimal design to provide upstream fish movement through the diversion structure. The construction project started in November at the end of the irrigation season. It had to be completed before spring runoff, which can start as early as March. The project was blessed with ideal weather for construction this winter.

“This project will improve river connectivity and benefit the aquatic resources by allowing fish to move freely back upstream as they wish,” CPW Aquatic Biologist Kyle Battige said. “Outside of the benefits to aquatic life, this project is important as it showcases the feasibility of fish passage at these large diversion structures and will hopefully further momentum for these types of projects. It also serves as an example of the collaboration and team effort from multiple entities that these large-scale conservation projects will have to have in order to be successful in today’s world.”

Northern Water General Manager Brad Wind said this project will be an example of future cooperative efforts on the river.

“This will be the first of several projects like these to create a healthier Poudre River for generations to come,” he said. “Northern Water and the NISP participants are proud to have been part of the cooperative effort to get this project completed.”

“This is a first step in improving the health and resiliency of the Poudre River,” said Rob Graves, owner of Morning Fresh Dairy and co-founder of noosa yoghurt. “Through collaboration, we can preserve and protect this critical natural resource that flows through our community.

“The river has played an important role in our business and in our family for over 100 years and we want to protect it for generations to come. We hope this project and future projects will be the legacy of our family and Morning Fresh Dairy.”

Southern #Colorado officials and volunteers prepare for rain on the #SpringFire burn scar

A firefighting helicopter flies in the foreground while the Spring Creek Fire (August 2018) rages behind it. Photo credit: El Paso County

From The Colorado Sun (Sue McMillin):

Even a quarter inch of rain pouring onto those devastated slopes could bring a new disaster to hundreds of homes and businesses in the Cucharas River valley, including the towns of La Veta and Walsenburg.

The 1,000 residents of La Veta could have as little as 30 minutes warning of a flash flood, and in a worst-case scenario the town could lose 70 percent of its structures.

“We believe we’re going to lose homes,” La Veta Mayor Douglas Brgoch said. “We believe we’re going to lose access and so forth. We don’t want to lose any people.”

Walsenburg’s 3,000 residents would have more warning time, but the potential for devastation also is severe — as many as 600 homes could be flooded along with City Hall and the county’s emergency operations center (a backup location has been secured).

The La Veta town hall also is in “the crosshairs of where flooding would be.” Officials would move to the water treatment facility that is on high ground, Brgoch said.

Town and Huerfano County websites are chock full of flood preparation information. Sirens and stream gauges have been installed, channels cleared and sandbags filled.

In La Veta, residents who live uphill from flood danger have signed up to be “flood buddies,” offering their homes as refuge to friends and neighbors whose homes are most endangered.

Army of volunteers help keep resources focused

About 160 people have put in more than 2,000 volunteer hours with the La Veta Trails organization to clear debris and brush from the banks of the Cucharas River where it runs through town…

Volunteers with Walsenburg’s newly hatched Green Leaf Committee have been doing the same thing along the river banks in that town.

Numerous government and nonprofit agencies are pitching in, coordinating through a post-fire flood task force. Huerfano County Emergency Manager Larry Sanders tried to tick off a list of those who’ve contributed money or services or both: Natural Resources Conservation Service, AmeriCorps, U.S. Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Geological Survey, National Weather Service, Colorado Department of Transportation, water districts, local nonprofits. His voice trails off…

Given the potential for a life-threatening flood — not just this year, but for several — Sanders said everyone keeps pushing to complete as much preparation as possible before monsoon season, typically mid-July to September. But they’ve also warned residents that any spring storm with heavy rain could lead to flooding.

The region got a taste of the potential after the fire last summer, with 13 flood warnings and a “few” events that caused some damage. They lost some cattle, barns and other out buildings and a couple of county roads washed out, he said.

But he anticipates much worse flooding from the burn scar.

“It’s not if and not even really when, but how many times,” he said.

Burn scars statewide are prone to flooding for years

The residents of Huerfano County are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of acres in Colorado have burned in wildland fires this century, often leaving burn scars prone to flooding for years.

A mud and rock slide from the 2002 Missionary Ridge fire near Durango recently closed a county road. Flash flood warning signs dot some canyon roads through the 2002 Hayman Fire burn area, where charred tree trunks stand starkly on the landscape. Closure gates and flash flood warning signs on U.S. 24 through Ute Pass are a reminder of the deadly flash floods that followed the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

Depending on the intensity and size of the fire, the steepness of the slopes and its proximity to watersheds and population areas, the results can be catastrophic.

Weston Toll, a watershed program specialist with the Colorado State Forest Service, said burn scar runoff can be devastating to reservoirs, agricultural land and rivers downstream as well as to homes and other structures. Special Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) assessments are completed to help predict post-fire flooding risks.

The intensity of a fire is key because it is so hot that the soil is sterilized, regrowth — and therefore erosion control — takes much longer. Nearly a quarter of the Spring Creek Fire acreage burned at high intensity, according to the BAER report.

#Snowpack/#Runoff news: Mid-March forecasted inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir = 950,000 acre-feet (142% of 30 year average)

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

From The Greeley Tribune (Adam Poulisse):

Recreation officials in northern Colorado say the above-average snowpack — one of our primary sources of water to drink, water our fields and play in — will be a boon for outdoor activities like whitewater rafting, paddleboarding, agriculture and fishing.

As long as the snowpack melts slowly and [doesn’t] cause flooding…

Each of the state’s eight basins have a snowpack greater than 100% of their historical average, Kuhn said. The South Platte (116 percent of normal) and Arkansas (135 percent) river basins are the primary rivers in the Front Range, with the other six flowing to the west…

Even snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin, with all of its water concerns, is sitting at 131 percent of normal, according to data maintained by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Colorado.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The mid-March forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 960,000 acre-feet. This is 142% of the 30 year average. Snowpack in the upper Gunnison River basin is currently 150% of average. Blue Mesa Reservoir current content is 247,600 acre-feet which is 30% of full. Current elevation is 7437.6 feet. Maximum content at Blue Mesa Reservoir is 829,500 acre-feet at an elevation of 7519.4 feet.

Black Canyon Water Right
The peak flow and shoulder flow components of the Black Canyon Water Right will be determined by the May 1 forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir. If the May 1 forecast is equal to the current forecast of 960,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the peak flow target will be 7,012 cfs for a duration of 24 hours. The shoulder flow target will be 955 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25. The point of measurement of flows to satisfy the Black Canyon Water Right is at the Gunnison River below Gunnison Tunnel streamgage at the upstream boundary of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD
Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the peak flow and duration flow targets in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, will be determined by the forecast of the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir and the hydrologic year type. At the time of the spring operation, if the forecast is equal to the current forecast of 960,000 acre-feet of runoff volume, the hydrologic year type will be set as Moderately Wet. Under a Moderately Wet year the peak flow target will be 14,350 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days. The duration target for the half-bankfull flow of 8,070 cfs will be 20 days. The criteria for the drought rule that allows half-bankfull flows to be reduced from 40 days to 20 days have been met.

Projected Spring Operations
During spring operations, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The magnitude of release necessary to meet the desired peak at the Whitewater gage will be dependent on the flow contribution from the North Fork of the Gunnison River and other tributaries downstream from the Aspinall Unit. Current projections for spring peak operations show that flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon could be near 7,000 cfs for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7508 feet with an approximate peak content of 728,000 acre-feet.

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A two- to four-week whitewater release from McPhee Dam into the Dolores River is “very likely” and is expected to begin in late May or early June, reservoir managers told a gathering of 40 boaters Thursday at the Dolores Community Center.

Snowpack in the Dolores Basin is 144 percent of average, enough to fill the nearly empty reservoir and provide recreational and ecological downstream flows.

“Our first priority is to fill the reservoir and provide water for our users,” said Robert Stump, of the Bureau of Reclamation in Cortez. “The exciting part for boaters is the predicted runoff provides an opportunity for a downstream release.”

But how long the dam release will last, and the exact date it will begin is unclear as most of the snowpack is still in the mountains, said Greg Smith, a hydrologist with the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center.

Runoff quantity and timing also depend on temperature and how much will be absorbed into the soil. When soil moisture is below 50 percent average, it knocks 5% to 15% off the runoff forecast.

Snowpack totals and runoff forecasts are extrapolated with modeling that relies on a series of snowpack measuring devices, called Snotels, in the Dolores Basin. The units have historical data from 1981 to 2015.

This year, there is the additional “wild card” of having a record dry winter last year and a wet winter this year that is expected to fill it back up, plus excess.

“This is not something we have experienced, and we’re not 100 percent sure how that will impact the runoff this year,” he said.

Reservoir and river managers use probabilities to inform boaters on the likelihood of a dam release.

According to the River Forecast Center, there is a 70% probability that Dolores River runoff will produce 40,000 acre-feet beyond what the reservoir can hold. That equals an approximate two-week whitewater release. Flows would be around 1,000 cubic feet per second, and peak flows would be would between 2,000 and 2,500 cfs.

A 50% runoff probability shows 130,000 acre-feet beyond what the reservoir can hold, according to the Forecast Center, enough for a approximate four-week whitewater release beginning in early May.

“A spill looks very likely,” said Ken Curtis, a reservoir engineer. “I’d plan for an early June raft trip, subject to change.”


Even without a dam release, melt-off from above-average low-elevation snows have charged the popular Slick Rock to Bedrock section of the Dolores River with boatable flows.

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for April 24, 2019 from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 24, 2019 via the NRCS.