#Colorado statewide #snowpack = 133% of normal

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

And here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map from the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 16, 2019 via the NRCS.

Good early season #snowpack ranges from 116% (#RioGrande Basin) to 146% (#SouthPlatte Basin) of normal

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map December 15, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Statewide, snowpack was at 122% of median statewide Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Mother Nature has been consistently generous around the state, with snowpack levels ranging from 109% of median in the Gunnison River Basin to 128% in the South Platte Basin.

The Colorado and Upper Rio Grande river basins were both at 114% of median Friday; the Arkansas River Basin, 115%; the Yampa/White basins, 127%; and river basins in southwest Colorado, 121%…

Aldis Strautins, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, is happy to see the current snowfall levels, although he cautioned that numbers can jump around quite a bit this time of year thanks to just a couple of storms, or a lack thereof…

The early snow is helpful to the ski industry in ensuring resorts can open in a timely fashion. As of Wednesday, Colorado Ski Country USA was reporting that 19 of its 23 member ski areas had opened. At least one more member, Powderhorn Mountain Resort, opened Friday, with all its lifts operating and 60% of its terrain open.

Strautins said Friday that on Grand Mesa, the Mesa Lakes measurement site was recording snowpack at 100% of normal, with 4.7 inches of snow-water-equivalent, the amount of water contained in the snow. Elsewhere on Grand Mesa, Overland Reservoir was around 78-80% of normal.What the NRCS calls the Park Reservoir measurement site, at what’s also known as Trickle Park Reservoir, was at 97% of normal…

The Colorado Climate Center reported this week that even with decent snow lately, precipitation in the Gunnison River Basin was at 77% for the current water year, which started Oct. 1.

BLM to assess groundwater geology and hydrology at proposed quarry expansion near #GlenwoodSprings

The proposed expansion of the Mid-Contintent Limestone Quarry above Glenwood Springs by the politically connected Rocky Mountain Resources has spurred the city to create a taxpayer funded campaign against the plan. The mine’s existing footprint of roughly 16 acres is in yellow and the proposed expansion is in red. Photo credit: City of Glenwood Springs via The Colorado Sun

From The Associated Press via TheDenverChannel.com:

The federal Bureau of Land Management plans to conduct an environmental assessment of test drilling proposed by the owner of a Colorado limestone quarry seeking to expand the operation, officials said.

Rocky Mountain Resources Industrials Inc. sought an environmental review exemption for five test wells, The Colorado Sun reported .

The company needs to perform the test drilling to assess the viability of expanding its Mid-Continent Limestone Quarry near Glenwood Springs, officials said.

The company will be required to pay for the environmental study that the agency will use to examine the potential impacts to the region’s water resources, bureau officials said.

Groundwater movement via the USGS

#Colorado Water Users Association Annual Conference recap #CRWUA2019 #COriver

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

The country’s top federal water manager said it was not time to renegotiate rules for managing water among the seven states and two countries that share the river. The current guidelines for the Colorado River are governed by a 2007 agreement that expires in 2026.

First, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates a series of dams and reservoirs in the watershed, will conduct a review of how the current rules have worked and report back by the end of next year. That review will encompass input from the states, tribes and other water users. After the review is complete, negotiations for a new set of guidelines are set to begin in 2021.

“This is an important, foundational task,” said Brenda Burman, who leads the agency.

But the history of the Colorado River is a history of ongoing deliberation within a legal framework that has traditionally overestimated how much water the river could deliver to farms, cities and businesses from Wyoming to Mexico. Agreements tend to be complex. Although five years might seem like enough time to hammer out a deal, water users expect reaching a deal to be a difficult task.

“It’s going to be a much more complex set of agreements that we’ve done on the river,” said Bill Hasencamp, who oversees Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Even though the negotiations won’t start for at least another year, top water managers were already laying the foundations for future talks last week, or at least identifying the questions that are likely to come into play. How do you prepare for the uncertainty of climate change on a river that is already strained? How do you share risk in a fair way? Who gets to be at the table?

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‘Most water secure area’

Of the seven states that share the Colorado River, Nevada has the smallest share. At the same time, Las Vegas gets 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.

In recent years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on new infrastructure to ensure that it can access water from Lake Mead, even if the man-made reservoir behind Hoover Dam ever fell so low that other states couldn’t access their supplies. With increased conservation and turf removal, the water authority has also decreased how much total water it removes from the reservoir each year. It consumes less than 80 percent of its total share.

“Between our physical security and our [conservation efforts], I really do feel that we’re the most water secure area in the Colorado River Basin,” water authority General Manager John Entsminger said during an interview at the conference…

Who’s at the table?

In 2007, the 29 federally recognized tribes in the Colorado River Basin were largely left out of the negotiations of the guidelines. But several speakers, including Burman, stressed the importance of tribal participation moving ahead.

Together, tribes are entitled to a share of water equal to about one fifth of the Colorado River, with many of their claims unresolved. Their water rights tend to be the most senior and protected from shortages. Tribal leaders say that it is all the more reason that they should be part of long-term river planning negotiations.

“Somebody used the word certainty,” Daryl Vigil, a member of the Jicarilla Apache Nation in New Mexico, said during a panel discussion on Thursday. “If you don’t include tribes in the conversation, given the nature of the volume of water rights that they have, how is that we start to create certainty if there is a big piece of the puzzle missing in terms of water rights in the basin?”

He said the track record is that states have not protected tribal rights in negotiations. Not including tribes now, he said, would be “irresponsible.”

“We have a long way to go,” he said…

Climate rhetoric and reality

In addition addressing equity issues in the upcoming negotiations, water managers will be tasked with a new challenge looming over the river: how to prepare for climate change. Warming temperatures and more evaporative demand are expected to decrease river streamflow. River flows could decline by about 20 percent in the middle of the century, according to climate scientists.

During a panel, Entsminger stressed the importance of being prepared for that.

“Success is knowing in advance objectively what everyone’s pain is going to be,” he said, when asked how to prepare for a climate change scenario of low river flows…

Other water managers who were representing Arizona, California and Colorado stressed the importance of addressing climate change, acknowledging a need to use less water. But their direct rhetoric contrasted with the rhetoric from federal officials who spoke at the conference. When one reporter asked about human-caused climate change, federal officials gave non-answers.

Despite that, Fleck said “Reclamation is taking climate change seriously.”

Given the administration’s position (President Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Accords), he said that “they use their language with care.”

In an interview with reporters, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the climate was changing, but his rhetoric about how it fit into the calculus was restrained.

“I certainly believe the climate is changing,” he said. “I spend a lot of time with our scientists and I spend a lot of time with our models. Scientists tell me the best thing we can do is make sure we use multiple models and multiple ranges within each model.”

He added that scientists say it is the most “speculative” part of forecasting.

Although the negotiations heading into 2026 will encompass more issues, some water managers cautioned against biting off too much at once.

Ted Cooke, who manages the Central Arizona Project, a canal that runs that delivers water to Tucson and Phoenix, said that the guidelines should not be viewed as the only opportunity to revisit how the Colorado River is managed.

Click here to view the conference hash tag #CRWUA2019. Click here to view the CRWUA Twitter feed.