Issued today from the Climate Prediction Center.
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
Hurricane Barry made landfall in southern Louisiana on July 13, delivering locally heavy showers and a modest storm surge but largely sparing crops and communities in the path of the poorly organized storm. Once inland, Barry drifted northward and was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm and—by July 14—a tropical depression. Outside of Barry’s sphere of influence, locally heavy showers dotted the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic States, sparking local flooding. Locally heavy rain also soaked portions of the North, with some of the highest totals reported across the northern half of the Plains and the upper Midwest. Many other areas of the country, including a large expanse of the West and parts of the southern Plains and the Midwest, experienced warm, dry weather. In fact, near- or above-normal temperatures dominated the country, as mid-summer heat began to build. Areas affected by Barry’s remnants, including the mid-South, remained somewhat cooler due to cloudy, showery weather. In part due to mid-July heat, short-term dryness was of great concern across the lower Midwest, where compaction, crusting, and dryness was reported in previously saturated topsoils…
Heavy showers and thunderstorms sweeping across North Dakota eradicated severe drought (D2) and reduced the coverage of moderate drought (D1) and abnormal dryness (D0). In the Dakotas, daily-record amounts for July 9 totaled 3.12 inches in Williston, North Dakota, and 1.29 inches in Watertown, South Dakota. The remainder of the High Plains remained free of dryness and drought…
Minimal changes were made, although generally cool weather in the Northwest contrasted with hot conditions in the Southwest. A few monsoon-related showers developed in the Four Corners States—the official monsoon start date in Tucson, Arizona, based on average dewpoint temperature, was July 13, the latest onset in that location since 2005. Meanwhile in eastern Washington, moderate drought (D1) was expanded due to an evaluation of water year-to-date precipitation totals; low reservoir levels; and soil moisture shortages. On July 14, USDA rated topsoil moisture 62% very short to short in Oregon and 39% very short to short in Washington…
Heat and high humidity levels will dominate the central and eastern U.S. through week’s end, except on the northern Plains. By early next week, however, markedly cooler, drier air will arrive across the Plains and Midwest. Meanwhile, the post-tropical remnants of Hurricane Barry will spark showers in the East through Thursday, while scattered showers and thunderstorms will affect parts of the nation’s northern tier. Five-day rainfall totals could reach 2 to 4 inches in the upper Midwest and locally 1 to 3 inches east of the Mississippi River. In contrast, dry weather will prevail in the south-central U.S. and from California to the Intermountain West.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for July 23 – 27 calls for the likelihood of below-normal temperatures from the central and southern Plains to the Atlantic Seaboard, excluding southern Florida, while hotter-than-normal conditions will dominate the West and the northern High Plains. Meanwhile, below-normal rainfall in the Midwest and along the northern Pacific Coast should contrast with wetter-than-normal weather along the Atlantic Coast, in the Deep South, and across the Intermountain West.
From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):
The cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs are increasing their efforts to develop a reservoir on lower Homestake Creek in the Eagle River basin that would hold between 6,850 acre-feet and 20,000 acre-feet of water.
The two Front Range cities, working together as Homestake Partners, have filed an application with the U.S. Forest Service to drill test bores at four potential dam sites on the creek, renowned for its complex wetlands.
They briefed members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation in April about federal legislation they are drafting that would adjust the Holy Cross Wilderness boundary near the dam sites.
And Aurora spent $4.1 million in 2018 to purchase a 150-acre private inholding parcel that accounts for about half the surface area of the 20,000-acre-foot version of the reservoir, removing one obstacle in the way of submitting a comprehensive land-use application to the Forest Service.
“We are in preparation to permit this overall project, to try and get that larger application in, so every piece of the project has had more time and effort spent on it,” said Kathy Kitzmann, a water resources principal with Aurora Water.
Eagle River MOU
The Whitney Reservoir project is defined in part by the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, a 1998 agreement that gives Aurora and Colorado Springs a basis to pursue 20,000 acre-feet of water from the Western Slope.
Parties to the MOU include Aurora, Colorado Springs, Climax Molybdenum Co., Colorado River Water Conservation District, Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority, and Vail Associates.
Peter Fleming, the River District’s general counsel, told the district’s board in a July 1 memo that the River District is “not participating in any Homestake Creek based alternative at this time, this effort is now being carried forward solely by the Homestake Partners.”
Under the MOU, various parties can pursue projects on their own, and the other parties are bound to support those efforts, but only to the degree that a proposed project meets the objectives of the MOU, including whether a project “minimizes environmental impacts.”
Whitney Reservoir takes its name from Whitney Creek, which flows into Homestake Creek just above the four potential dam alignments now being studied. The dam that would form Whitney Reservoir would stand across Homestake Creek, not Whitney Creek. Homestake Creek flows into the Eagle River at Red Cliff.
Asked how serious the two cities are about the Whitney Reservoir project, Kevin Lusk, the principal engineer at Colorado Springs Utilities, said, “We’ve been serious about it for the last 20 years.”
And he said the recent drilling application “is another step in the continuum from concept to reality.”
On June 25, the two cities submitted an application with the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District for permission from the White River National Forest to drill 13 test bores 150 feet to explore the geology under the four sites.
The sites are clustered on the creek between 3 and 5 miles above the intersection of U.S. 24 and Homestake Road, shown as Forest Road 703 on most maps. The intersection is not far below Camp Hale, between Minturn and Leadville.
The drilling application says Aurora and Colorado Springs are conducting “a fatal-flaw level reservoir siting study” that “comprises subsurface exploration to evaluate feasibility of dam construction on lower Homestake Creek.”
White River National Forest supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams said review of the drilling application itself is “fairly standard stuff.”
“We’ll definitely send out a scoping statement, asking for public comment, but it won’t be about a dam,” he said. “It will be about drilling the holes.”
Each of the 13 borings would take up to five days to drill, so there could be 65 days of drilling this fall or, if the application is not approved this year, in 2020, according to Lusk.
The project includes taking a “track-mounted drill rig or a buggy-mounted drill rig,” a “utility vehicle pulling a small trailer” and a “track-mounted skid steer” onto public lands along 10-foot-wide “temporary access routes.”
The drill rigs are about 8 feet wide, 22 feet long and 8 feet high. To get the rigs to drilling sites, some wetlands may need to be crossed and trees will be cut as necessary.
The information about the geology under the four sites will help determine the size of a dam on a given alignment and how much water a reservoir would hold, Lusk said. And that could affect how much wilderness area might be encroached on.
Given that Aurora and Colorado Springs are still working through various options, it’s not clear yet how big of an adjustment to the wilderness boundary they might ultimately seek from Congress.
The current proposed legislation developed by the cities asks to remove 497 acres from the wilderness boundary, but it is also expected to include a reversion provision so if all 497 acres are not needed, the boundary adjustment could be reduced.
According to Lusk, in one the of the alternatives studied, about 80 acres would need to be removed from the wilderness area if Whitney Reservoir was to hold 20,000 acre feet of water. However, the cities have yet to rule out the option of building an alternate reservoir below the Whitney Reservoir location – Blodgett Reservoir – which could require a larger boundary adjustment, although not the full 497 acres.
An adjustment to a wilderness boundary requires an act of Congress and the president’s signature. In April, representatives from the two cities described the potential boundary change to staffers of U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Jason Crow, Joe Neguse and Doug Lamborn.
Fitzwilliams said Monday the Forest Service won’t accept a full-blown land-use application for Whitney Reservoir until the wilderness boundary issue has been worked out through federal legislation, if that is still needed after the final version of the reservoir is better defined.
Kitzmann said she is reaching out to stakeholders to continue to refine the legislative language and the map showing the extent of the proposed boundary change.
Wetlands and fens
On another front, Aurora Water and Colorado Springs Utilities staffers are hosting a tour this week for the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board of the Homestake Plant and Fen Relocation Project, near Leadville.
The CWCB directors, holding their July meeting in Leadville, also will hear a presentation at their meeting about the fen-relocation effort, which consists of moving “fen-like organic soils and plant life” from one location in blocks or bales to another location and “reassembling them in a specially prepared groundwater-fed basin.”
Many regulatory agencies do not believe it’s possible to re-create complex fen wetlands, according to a CWCB staff memo, but that regulatory stance “may be related to the lack of scientific investigation on fen mitigation.”
A 2016 study estimated between 26 and 180 acres of wetlands on lower Homestake Creek would be impacted by Whitney Reservoir.
“This is one of the finest wetlands we can find on our forest — it’s unbelievable,” Fitzwilliams said. “From an environmental impact standpoint, this would not be a project that we would be favorable to.”
But Lusk said the fen-relocation project near Leadville is “proof of concept” that replacing fens, while “a tough nut to crack,” can be done.
Fitzwilliams may be hard to persuade.
“You can mitigate,” he said, “but you can’t replace 10,000 years of work.”
Forebay and pumping
Despite the wetlands and wilderness challenges, Lusk and Kitzmann said no fatal flaws have been found yet in what they view as an important future element of their water-supply systems.
The new reservoir would serve as a collection point for water brought in via tunnels from the Eagle River and Fall and Peterson creeks, and for water captured from Homestake Creek.
The reservoir would also serve as a forebay, as the water captured in Whitney Reservoir would be pumped 7 miles up to Homestake Reservoir. Once there, it can be sent through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville, and then on to Aurora and Colorado Springs.
The two cities own and manage Homestake Reservoir, the upper end of which is in Pitkin County. The reservoir opened in 1967 and normally stores 43,600 acre-feet of water from seven high-mountain creeks behind a 231-foot-tall dam. About 25,000 acre-feet a year is sent through the Homestake Tunnel each year to the Front Range.
Homestake Partners also has a conditional water-storage right from 1995 to store 9,300 acre-feet of water behind a potential 110-foot-tall dam in what is called Blodgett Reservoir, located on Homestake Creek below the Whitney Reservoir sites. Blodgett Reservoir also has a longer history, and has been viewed as an alternate location for older water rights – appropriated in 1952 and adjudicated in 1962 – that are tied to Homestake Reservoir.
Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. This version includes a clarification concerning the size of the adjustment to the wilderness boundary and the date of the water rights for Blodgett Reservoir.
From the Colorado River Outfitters Association via The Valley Courier:
Mid-season Colorado rafting conditions are ripe and there are still plenty of adventures to be had this summer. With late season snow, cooler temperatures, slow runoff and higher water levels dominating most of June, July is bringing more steady water flow levels that promise to run for an extended season into at least early fall.
Temperatures throughout the state have warmed up, and with flows returning to more moderate levels, rafting trips with professional outfitters are starting to book out. In 2018, Colorado’s commercial rafting companies hosted more than 520,000 rafters over the course of the season, resulting in a nearly $176 million economic impact across the state. Members of the Colorado River Outfitters Association collectively raft more than 30 distinct stretches of river across eight major water basins.
“Water conditions vary by the river – all geographic areas have different levels of rafting, but we’re anticipating many runs will be open later this season than they have in several years,” said CROA Executive Director, David Costlow. “Durango has family to wild rafting, as does the Buena Vista to Canon City area. The Cache la Poudre outside Fort Collins, the Rio Grande near Creede, all sections of the Colorado and the Taylor near Crested Butte are enjoying consistent and full level flows. Talk with an outfitter of choice and take their suggestions, they know the best route for your preferences.”
Rafting outside of Glenwood Springs, Winter Park/Steamboat and Grand Junction will continue into the fall; most likely lasting until into October; the traditional close of the regular rafting season. The Animas in Durango should flow through September and the Poudre should have rafting to early September. In some sections, the Arkansas River will flow through September and Clear Creek will be raftable at fun flows to the middle or late August.
For comparison, last year at this time, some trips were unavailable due the low water levels. This year the steady melt and temperatures have delayed low water and is allowing outfitters to offer a range of moderate level trips for the next several weeks. Except for a few extreme runs, most all sections are available for rafting.
The Colorado River Outfitters Association (CROA) offers the following tips for both tourists, and locals alike, looking to book a rafting trip this season:
Raft close to where you are vacationing. There are many types of rafting options out there – if you have a vacation planned, it could be the perfect opportunity to check with an outfitter nearby to see if they have availability. This is a great starting point to get you out on the water. Then, discuss options with them to tailor your trip experience.
Choose a trip that is appropriate for you. Once you know where you are located either due to a planned vacation or day trip, most outfitters offer a variety of trips from more family friendly options to more extreme adventures, which can be selected based on experience level, fitness and desires for the trip.
Bring the kids! Rafting can be a wonderful experience for children, and Colorado outfitters offer many trips appropriate for kids. This time of year, some trips allow children as young as four. Still, be sure to verify any age and weight restrictions in place for the given conditions on the trips you’re considering.
Listen to the guide. Rafting guides are specially trained and experienced, as well as knowledgeable about local history, culture, geology and wildlife.
Know what to bring and wear. Some items are generally considered standard for any Colorado rafting trip. The outfitter will give you a list of what they have and suggested additional items you may need to bring. For example, an outfitter will have life jackets (PFDs), splash jackets, wetsuits and paddles but suggested items to bring may include quick drying shorts or swimsuits, river sandals or old tennis shoes, sunscreen, lip balm, change of clothes, etc.
From The Silver City Daily Press (Geoffrey Plant):
The Gila River winds through many lands before and after it enters Arizona, including the territory of some Native American tribes that historically have relied on the water for their homes and their crops. One of those, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, has thrown shade on any future New Mexico Unit diversion by virtue of their refusing to be a party to virtually any aspect of the project, or its affiliated agreements.
The 2004 federal Arizona Water Settlements Act was intended to address the fact that some communities — particularly Native American communities — had long been on the short end of the stick when it came to water rights. The Central Arizona Project, known as the CAP, is a major diversion of Colorado River water that began supplying water to Phoenix and Tucson in the late 1980s — but it is only an outsized example of diversions that impacted downstream communities in southern Arizona over the years.
Four New Mexico counties are also included in the settlement legislation: Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna. As a result, the New Mexico Unit of the Central Arizona Project was created, making available millions of dollars from the settlement. Farmers and landowners in southwestern New Mexico banded together to form the New Mexico Entity of the Central Arizona Project aiming to spend that money.
Should the N.M. CAP Entity proceed with their plan to divert up to 14,000 acre-feet of water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers, a rarely discussed sticking point lies ahead for the project. The AWSA that provides the money for the project includes by reference what is called the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement, or “CUFA,” a deal among the federal government and downstream users of the Gila River.
Before the N.M. CAP Entity could start diverting water — should the project come to fruition — there are requirements that it must satisfy, most of which revolve around the San Carlos Reservoir, operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on San Carlos Apache tribal land. Most of the water users in that area and downstream signed on to the CUFA in 2005 and 2006, and are therefore guaranteed exchange water, or “credits,” for lost water resulting from the diversion upstream.
“The CUFA is a complex document,” said Dominique Work, a lawyer with the N.M. Interstate Stream Commission. “One requirement is that New Mexico can’t start diverting water unless there is at least 30,000 acre-feet in the San Carlos Reservoir at the beginning of each year.”
Even when the reservoir has 30,000 acre-feet in it at the beginning of the year, sometimes the water quality is poor, which is also a sticking point. The 22 water users that signed on to the CUFA agreed to forgo the right to sue over water quality or quantity.
But in a glaring exception, the San Carlos Tribe did not sign on to the agreement. They have also refused to allow a pipeline — as part of the AWSA — to be built on their land.
“The pipeline would provide water from farmers in the Safford, Arizona, area,” as part of the water settlement, Work said. “The farmers were given $15 million in the AWSA to build that pipeline. They built it until they got to the land boundary of the tribe, and the tribe said, ‘You aren’t building that on our reservation.’ So there is a means to get the water — and that is a prerequisite.”
Since the tribe has both refused to complete the project and refused to sign the CUFA, it is debatable whether their water needs would be met by the half-built pipeline.
Work asserted that the “mechanism is satisfied” for getting the tribe the water it is due. But it appears that the tribe — which Entity Director Anthony Gutierrez points out “only get[s] 6,000 acre-feet of water per year from the reservoir” — apparently wants their water to come from the Gila River. And that raises water quality issues.
Stephanie Russo Baca, staff attorney at the Utton Transboundary Resources Center at the University of New Mexico School of Law, isn’t so certain that San Carlos wouldn’t have standing to sue. She interprets the AWSA as giving the tribe the right to litigate against the Entity and whoever else it feels is culpable for low water quality.
“The Arizona Water Settlements Act states that the United States — on behalf of the San Carlos Apache Tribe — or the tribe itself can assert any claim against any party, including any claim for water rights, injury to water rights, or injury to water quality,” she said. “Even though the San Carlos Apache Tribe is a non-signatory to the CUFA, this does not preclude them from asserting their rights.”
From KOAA.com (Tyler Dumas):
A [new] groundwater treatment facility is going to be built just north of the existing one.
The facility will be paid for by the Air Force and will be built by the Army Corps of Engineers. The project is part of the agreement reached to protect Fountain’s water from contamination from Peterson Air Force Base in 2016.
From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Duffy Hayes):
Council on Wednesday…reached another important milestone in the development of Las Colonias Park, with the approval of a nearly $1.3 million construction contract that will create a new inlet channel of the river nearby, as well as extend the current water channel to draw more river runners to the park.
The contract — awarded to K&D Construction of Grand Junction — will lead to a new 475-lineal-foot inlet channel and an approximately 850-lineal-foot extension of the existing channel, providing for the addition of 1.77 acres of open water, according to city information prepared for councilors.
When the work is finished, by no later than the end of the year, the excavated channel extension will have continuous water flow when the Colorado is flowing above 810 cubic feet per second. The secondary channel that will be created will have drops and pools, in-stream habitat structures and boulders, and other recreational and interpretative amenities.