$30 million #SaltonSea bill passes U.S. House — KESQ.com #ColoradoRiver #CORiver #aridification

The New River, a contaminated waterway that flows north from Mexico, spills into the Salton Sea in southwestern California’s Imperial Valley. Transborder pollution is among Jayne Harkins’ priorities as U.S. IBWC Commissioner. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

From KESQ.com (Sam Benson Smith):

The United State House of Representative has passed H.R. 2740, an appropriations bill in support of a federal agreement to allot $30 million for projects which would address the environmental and health crisis at the Salton Sea.

Included in the Bill is an amendment from Representative Raul Ruiz, M.D. (D – Palm Desert) which would dedicate an added $2 million to stymie the decline of California’s largest lake.

One Small Colorado Town Ran Out Of Water. How Did It Happen? — KUNC

Paonia. Photo credit: Allen Best

Here’s a report from KUNC (Luke Runyon). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

One morning in mid-February, David Herz went to turn on the faucet in his farmhouse outside the small western Colorado town of Paonia, and nothing came out…

Herz is president of a small water company that purchases treated drinking water from the town for him and a few of his rural neighbors. Small outages are common enough not to raise alarm. Herz started calling around to see what was happening…

“We usually we average about one (outage) a year on the line,” he said. “Something breaks, and you have to turn the water off. So it’s not uncommon.”

He quickly found he wasn’t the only person reliant on Paonia’s water with a dry tap. What he didn’t know at that point was how long the shortage would last. From mid-February to early March most of the town’s about 1,600 water customers were issued boil notices, and eventually saw their water turned off for a combined 13 days…

“What do we want growth to look like? Do we at some point in time put up the barricades and say not here?”

Those questions led to even tougher ones like whose water use is more important? And with projections for a hotter, drier Southwest, is a town like Paonia ready for climate change?

[Ken] Knight said they don’t yet have all the answers, but he’s committed to taking steps to prepare for future shortages.

“Water is the oil of the 21st century. People don’t quite understand how difficult it is to run a water system so you have clean drinking water,” he said.

If other small towns in the West aren’t prepared to handle a combination of drought and leaky infrastructure, he said Paonia’s story is a warning of things to come.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here, here, and here.

#Drought news: No change in depiction for #Colorado (still free of drought and abnormal dryness)

Click on a thumbnail graphic below 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 stationary front was a focus for frequent showers and thunderstorms with locally heavy rainfall from eastern South Carolina south to the Big Bend of Florida from June 11 to 14. The heavier rainfall resulted in short-term rainfall surpluses and drought elimination to parts of the Coastal Plain of Georgia and South Carolina. Another cold front progressed slowly south and east across the Great Plains, Corn Belt, and Mississippi Valley from June 14 to 16 before becoming stationary. Locally heavy rain (more than 2 inches) and hundreds of severe weather reports were common across the central and southern Great Plains, middle to upper Mississippi Valley, and Ohio Valley during mid-June. Excessively wet conditions continue to slow the emergence of corn and soybeans across the Corn Belt. Meanwhile, drought intensified across northern North Dakota due to a lack of rainfall since April. A strong ridge of high pressure resulted in dry weather and record high temperatures (June 11 and 12) across the Pacific Northwest where drought is also intensifying. Suppressed rainfall continues to affect parts of Puerto Rico…

High Plains

Late May through mid-June is typically a wetter time of year across the northern Great Plains. However, during the past 60 days, parts of northwest North Dakota have received less than 50 percent of their normal rainfall. Given the lack of rainfall since the snow melt in early April, multiple adverse impacts to agriculture and livestock are being reported across the northern tier of counties in North Dakota. These reports include: lack of forage production on pastures, culling of cattle herds, and delayed crop growth. Based on the increasing short-term deficits, soil moisture conditions, and reported impacts, severe drought (D2) is warranted for parts of northern North Dakota. A lack of late spring rainfall also continues to result in an expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) across the northern half of North Dakota. In contrast to the worsening conditions across North Dakota, abnormal dryness was removed from the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming based on a continuation of a favorably wet pattern through May and June…

West

The month of May tied for the 9th warmest for Washington dating back to 1895 and statewide March thru May tied for the 13th driest period on record Based on 90-day precipitation deficits of more than 8 inches along with 28-day streamflows and soil moisture below the 10th percentile, severe drought (D2) was expanded across western Washington. Levels along Rimrock Lake are extremely low with adverse impacts to boating docks. Record high temperatures during early June also played a role in the intensification of drought across western parts of Washington and Oregon. On June 12, a daily-record high of 95 degrees F was set in Seattle. In Oregon, daily-record highs on June 12 included: 98F at Portland, 99F at Medford, and 101F at Roseburg. The expansion this week of D0 and D1 across Oregon and Washington is generally reflective of the current 28-day streamflows. Long-term D0 remains in parts of southern California due to the multi-year drought. Elsewhere across California and the Great Basin, many reservoirs are full and 28-day streamflows remain high after the onset of the snowmelt season…

South

7-day rainfall anomalies (June 11 to 17) varied across the southern Great Plains, lower Mississippi Valley, and Tennessee Valley which is typical for this time of year. The heaviest rainfall (2 to 4 inches, locally more) was observed across scattered areas of Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and the Texas Gulf Coast. Less than an inch of rainfall was generally observed across most of Arkansas and adjacent areas of northwest Mississippi and western Tennessee. The Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) continues to reflect moist conditions throughout much of this region. Soil moisture remains above the 99th percentile across most of Oklahoma and northern Texas. According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, the northeast quarter of Oklahoma has received 12 to 18 inches of rainfall during the past 30 days. Abnormal dryness was expanded slightly across parts of the Tennessee Valley in areas where 60-day precipitation averages 50 to 75 percent of normal. However, much of this region remains drought-free since 28-day streamflows and soil moisture do not support a drought designation at this time. A slight expansion of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1) was necessary across Deep South Texas due to increasing short-term rainfall deficits and periods of above normal temperatures during the past month…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (June 20-24, 2019), a couple of cold fronts are forecast to progress east across the northern half of the central and eastern U.S. On June 20, locally heavy rain (more than 1 inch) is expected to accompany a cold front as it crosses the Northeast and northern mid-Atlantic. A second frontal system is likely to trigger severe thunderstorms with heavy rainfall across the central U.S. The NWS WPC 5-day quantitative precipitation forecast (QPF) calls for widespread amounts of 1 to 3 inches, locally more, from eastern portions of the central and southern Great Plains east to the Midwest and Ohio Valley. Dry weather is likely to persist across southern Texas and the Pacific Northwest. The most anomalous warmth is expected across the Gulf Coast States. Overall suppressed rainfall is expected to continue for Puerto Rico through late June.

The CPC 6-10 day outlook (June 25-29, 2019) favors above-normal temperatures across much of the central and eastern U.S. with below-normal temperatures lingering over the western U.S. Enhanced odds for above-normal precipitation are forecast for much of the eastern U.S., Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, middle to lower Mississippi Valley, and southern Great Plains. A slight tilt in the odds for below-normal precipitation is forecast for southern areas of Florida and Texas, the High Plains, and central to southern Rockies. A relatively warm and dry pattern is most likely to persist across Alaska.

Colorado program that enhances streams gets a second chance at expansion this summer — @WaterEdCO

Fryingpan River downstream of Ruedi Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs

From Water Education Colorado (Shay Castle):

With Colorado’s snowpack at historically high levels and several towns turning their attention from avalanches to potential flooding, most people in the state probably aren’t thinking about preparing for drought years. But state lawmakers, farmers and environmentalists are.

Together, they are working over the summer on potential expansions to a program that allocates water specifically to benefit streams and aquatic habitat in dry times.

The measure failed at the State Capitol this year, but HB19-1218, Loaned Water for Instream Flows to Improve Environment, will be taken up again this summer by the legislature’s Interim Water Resources Review Committee.

The first effort was championed by conservationists like The Nature Conservancy and opposed by some farmers, who worry it could harm water rights reserved for agriculture.

“Our businesses are totally based on the value of those water rights,” said Carlyle Currier, vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau and a rancher in Molina, Colo. “We’re very concerned that changes would allow that right to be injured.”

Colorado’s Instream Flow Program was established amid the environmental movement of the 1970s to integrate environmental water needs into the state’s intricate system of water rights. Colorado’s water laws work on a priority system: Those whose water rights were established earliest get first dibs in dry years. Before the instream flow law was created, there was no mechanism to establish a water right specifically to keep water in a stream to protect fish and the environment. Rather, water rights were all about diverting that water from the stream.

The Instream Flow (ISF) Program uses water rights within that same priority system to reserve water for environmental purposes, protecting the plants and animals that depend on streamflows.

To date, 9,600 miles of stream have been protected through ISF, according to Linda Bassi, chief of lake and stream protection with the Colorado Water Conservation Board — nearly a quarter of the state’s 40,000 miles of waterways. The CWCB doesn’t have a goal for how many miles of stream it would like to eventually protect, Bassi said, instead taking recommendations from state and federal agencies, local governments and environmental groups for specific stream segments in need of protection.

The CWCB is the only entity that can legally hold ISF water rights. It gets them through establishing new, junior water rights, or by acquiring existing water rights via donation, purchase, lease or other contract. HB19-1218 was concerned with the leasing of existing water rights for ISF purposes.

Under current law, water rights holders can lease their water to the ISF Program only three years out of any 10-year period, and are limited to one 10-year timeline. After that, to maintain ISF protection on a given stretch of stream, the CWCB has to find another water rights holder to lease from, or work out another agreement to preserve the water.

The state can and does employ different means to protect a stretch of water on non-lease years. But “leases are the simplest and easiest way to pull this off,” said Andy Schultheiss, executive director of the Colorado Water Trust, a nonprofit that works with the CWCB on the ISF Program.

Under the proposed legislation, the CWCB would be able to lease water rights for five years out of 10, and the 10-year periods could be renewed twice. Extending protection to 15 years out of 30 will help sustain the environment as drought cycles become more erratic due to climate change, said Aaron Citron, policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy.

“What we’re trying to do is provide a tool that can address critically low stream conditions under a more variable future scenario,” Citron said. Even if HB19-1218 had passed as-is, the expanded ISF Program would not “fully meet the need we think we will see under climate change.”

Both Schultheiss and Citron agree that the way ISF rights are being used today shows that there is more demand for instream flow protection than supply. Two of three available years have been used in a lease of water from Stagecoach Reservoir near Steamboat Springs to benefit the Yampa River, according to Citron, and the Colorado Water Trust is holding off on using the third for when conditions are most dire.

“Last summer, there were stretches when the only water in the Yampa [River] through Steamboat Springs had been leased [for instream flow],” Schultheiss said.

As far as the state’s farmers are concerned, expanding instream flows goes a step too far. The Colorado Farm Bureau opposed HB19-1218 for the primary reason of protecting existing water rights.

“It seems like it was a little bit of a backdoor to expand ISF rights without going through the vetting process,” said Currier. “That’s a little frightening to those of us who own water rights.”

To establish a new ISF water right on a particular stream, there is a three-year process that ends with a review by Colorado’s water court to determine, among other things, that the instream right won’t negatively impact other water rights holders. Extending lease periods that significantly without a return to water court could harm farmers, Currier said.

Under the proposed rules, Currier worries that two five-year leases could be stacked back-to-back, leaving water in streams for 10 consecutive years while fields go fallow.

The Farm Bureau is also concerned about a third proposal for the ISF Program. Currently, leased water rights can only be allocated for instream purposes in a quantity great enough to preserve the natural environment “to a reasonable degree.” The Nature Conservancy wants to go beyond preserving existing conditions to allow improvement of natural conditions as well.

“That language is a little troubling to us,” Currier said. “That is not a quantitative term. Who determines what’s an improvement? What exactly does that mean?”

The CWCB already has the authority to acquire water rights that improve the environment, Citron said, just not for ISF leases.

This and other ISF issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the legislative interim water committee as part of the 2019 Colorado Water Congress annual summer conference, being held Aug. 20-22 in Steamboat Springs. Both sides remain hopeful that a compromise could be reached, though Currier noted farmers are resistant to making changes that they feel haven’t been properly vetted for potential negative impacts.

“We’re not out to destroy the environment; we’re more dependent on it than the average citizen,” Currier said. “We really feel the existing water law is written fairly well and we don’t see a lot of need for changes to that.”

If the interim water committee is able to craft new language that satisfies agricultural and environmental interests, a new bill will be introduced during the next legislative session, which convenes Jan. 8, 2020.

Shay Castle is a freelance journalist based in Boulder, Colorado. She can be reached at shay.castle6@gmail.com

The wet spring = $3.4 million drop in sales for @CSUtilities in May but beats forecast

Colorado Springs with the Front Range in background. Photo credit Wikipedia.

From The Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

A damp spring that’s pushed Colorado Springs above its normal rainfall total translates to about $3.4 million less in water sales for Colorado Springs Utilities through May this year compared to the same five months last year.

The dip in sales likely is related to customers curtailing irrigation of lawns, golf courses and other vegetation.

Last year, Utilities collected $64.7 million in water sales through May, compared to this year’s $61.3 million.

The biggest gap between last year and this year came in May when Utilities’ water revenue totaled $18.3 million compared to $23.3 million in May 2018.

Water consumption in May 2018 stood at 2.9 billion gallons, compared to 2 billion gallons in May this year.

Because Utilities forecasted sales through May 2019 at $18 million but brought in $18.3 million, “We were OK,” says Utilities spokesperson Natalie Watts.

“In general,” she says via email, “when we do forecasting we tend to [err] on the side of conservativeness because we don’t want to get ourselves into a financial hardship. This is especially true during the months of May and October because the weather can be so different during those two months from year to year. We try to build in a little bit of a cushion in case of a bad year.”

#LakeMead forecast continues to brighten as water cuts are modeled — The Las Vegas Review-Journal #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

The outlook for Lake Mead continues to improve, as federal forecasters factor in the benefits from an unusually wet winter and a new interstate drought deal that will leave more water in the reservoir.

Instead of the familiar declines of recent decades, the lake east of Las Vegas now is expected to finish the year slightly higher than it is now, according to the latest estimates from the Bureau of Reclamation.

The projected water level of almost 1,086 feet above sea level by the end of December is about a foot higher than hydrologists were predicting a month ago.

Almost all of that difference can be traced to the extra water the reservoir will store as a result of the Drought Contingency Plans signed by the seven Colorado River states during a ceremony at Hoover Dam last month…

Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Doug Hendrix said this marks the first time the new voluntary drought cuts have been factored into the bureau’s running, two-year forecast for the Colorado…

The bureau now expects the river to swell with about 144 percent of its average flow through July, as all that snow melts and runs downstream into Lake Powell, the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border formed by Glen Canyon Dam. That would make this the second wettest year — and just the fifth with above-average river flows — since the current drought began in 2000.

Report: Simulating the sensitivity of evapotranspiration and streamflow to large-scale groundwater depletion

Click here to read the report. Here’s the abstract:

Groundwater pumping has caused marked aquifer storage declines over the past century. In addition to threatening the viability of groundwater-dependent economic activities, storage losses reshape the hydrologic landscape, shifting groundwater surface water exchanges and surface water availability. A more comprehensive understanding of modern groundwater-depleted systems is needed as we strive for improved simulations and more efficient water resources management. Here, we begin to address this gap by evaluating the impact of 100 years of groundwater declines across the continental United States on simulated watershed behavior. Subsurface storage losses reverberate throughout hydrologic systems, decreasing streamflow and evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration declines are focused in water-limited periods and shallow groundwater regions. Streamflow losses are widespread and intensify along drainage networks, often occurring far from the point of groundwater abstraction. Our integrated approach illustrates the sensitivity of land surface simulations to groundwater storage levels and a path toward evaluating these connections in large-scale models.

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Groundwater pumping is causing rivers and small streams throughout the country to decline, according to a new study from researchers at the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Arizona.

“If you pump near a stream you’re going to change the amount of water that flows through the stream, because some of that stream water is going to basically get pulled to the well instead of flowing down the stream,” said Reed Maxwell, hydrologist at Colorado School of Mines and the study’s co-author.

Maxwell says his new study with hydrologist Laura Condon at the University of Arizona goes broad, quantifying the effect of pumping across the country.

“What we found is that we have actually depleted streams quite a bit,” Maxwell said.

The study finds that since the 1950s groundwater pumping has caused some stream flows to decline upwards of 50 percent. Some streams have disappeared from the surface altogether, seeping underground to refill pumped groundwater, the study finds.

Declines are particularly stark in portions of the Colorado River basin and on the Great Plains, Maxwell said.

Using a computer model, researchers were able to envision what rivers across the U.S. would’ve looked like without widespread groundwater pumping, which took hold in the 1950s.