#Drought news: Warmer than average temperatures lead to expansion of D1 (Moderate Drought) in E. #Colorado

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 low pressure system propagated eastward across much of the southern tier states early in the period (March 4-6) and merged with a short-wave trough dropping southeastward from the Midwest before moving off the Mid-Atlantic coast on March 7. This system dropped more than 2 inches of rainfall over large areas from extreme southeastern New Mexico eastward to South Carolina. Some areas of central Alabama and Georgia saw more than 5 inches of rainfall, which fell over saturated soil. However, much of the heavier rainfall remained north of the I-10 corridor from southern Texas to northern Florida, while areas south of I-10 received only modest amounts, which were not nearly enough to reduce deficits. The Pacific Northwest and California also saw some precipitation over the past week, but amounts were not enough to reduce any deficits. Some recent dryness over southern Iowa and northern Missouri was mitigated a bit with near- to above-normal precipitation falling last week as well. Deficits increased in the Mid-Atlantic and New England over the past 30 days, but were kept at bay, as these areas saw 0.1 to 1 inch and 0.1 to 0.5 inches of rainfall, respectively. The active storm track continued last week for Alaska, with the southeastern Panhandle receiving 2 to 6 inches of precipitation over many areas. This precipitation, along with near- to below-normal temperatures, has finally produced above-normal snowpack in the Alaska Panhandle for the first time in 7 to 8 years, warranting D0 removal. Hawaii remained dry on the leeward slopes last week due to persistent trade winds, leading to some D0 expansion and development on the Big Island and Oahu, respectively. Puerto Rico saw D0 removal, as northern portions of the island saw much above-normal precipitation, eliminating short-term deficits…

High Plains
D1 was expanded a bit in northeastern Colorado (i.e. existing D1 areas were connected). This area has continued to experience warmer-than-average temperatures in recent weeks, which has had adverse effects on winter wheat and rangelands prior to green-up. In addition to SPIs showing D1 (and worse over longer periods at a couple locations), USGS stream flows in surrounding locations were showing flows below the 10th percentile. Some drier-than-normal conditions crept into eastern portions of the Dakotas over the past 30 days (25 to 50 percent of normal precipitation, with some small areas of 10 to 25 percent of normal in extreme eastern South Dakota). However, 60- and 90-day precipitation was near and above normal, respectively, for these areas. Therefore, it was status quo for the rest of the High Plains Region…

D0 was expanded to the coast in Monterey County, California, with 5 to 10 inch year-to-date (YTD) deficits over much of the county (greater than 10 inch deficits on some of the windward slopes). D0 was also expanded eastward and southeastward from Los Angeles County in favor of those areas receiving 10 to 25 percent of YTD precipitation with some locations seeing 25 to 50 percent of normal water-year-to-date (WYTD) precipitation. However, this area was not extended further southward as most of San Diego County has seen near-normal precipitation going back 6 months, and near-normal rainfall over the past week. D1 was expanded to connect the areas in California and Nevada (near Reno, Nevada). March 10 snow water content (SWC) was still below normal, and YTD precipitation was 5 to 10 percent of normal within the expanded area. D1 was also expanded southward into San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles Counties in California, with several locations seeing the January-February period falling within the top 5 driest on record. This has already had large impacts to natural vegetation needed for feeding livestock, as many ranchers have resorted to supplemental feeding. Similar reports have come from northern California (Siskiyou County), over the past couple of weeks, along with unregulated streams running dry, hence the D1 expansion there as well.

Elsewhere in the Western Region, D0 was reduced in southeastern New Mexico and D1 was removed in eastern New Mexico due to last week’s rainfall. In addition, many of these areas are seeing greater than 150 percent of normal YTD precipitation and near-normal (former D0 and D1 areas) and above-normal (former D0 area) WYTD precipitation. D0 was also expanded in eastern Nevada (northeast White Pine County). 6-month precipitation is 25 to 50 percent of normal, which has become worse over the past 30 days (areas of 2 to 5 percent of normal), supporting ground reports of abnormal dryness. D1 was expanded eastward in central and northern Washington. Although the past 60 to 90 days have seen near-normal precipitation for these areas, 6-month deficits show precipitation at 25 to 50 percent of normal and little to no precipitation has fallen in the past 30 days, which has contributed to some below-normal snowpack over eastern portions of the state. D1 was also expanded westward in northwest Oregon (northern Willamette Valley) and eastward in southeastern Oregon in favor of WYTD deficits of over 13 inches and below-normal SWC. In addition, 7-day USGS stream flows continued to be below the 10th percentile last week. Additional D1 expansion was made in southeastern Oregon due to 25 to 50 percent of normal YTD and WYTD precipitation…

D0 was expanded northward from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Many of these areas have 6-month deficits of over 8 inches; 6-month deficits over 12 inches in southeastern LA (i.e. 50 to 75 percent of normal). Rainfall over the past 30 days has been particularly low, with precipitation falling to 25 to 50 percent of normal, with some locations in the new D1 area seeing 10 to 25 percent of normal. Some expansion of D1 was made northeast of Corpus Christi, Texas, and D2 toward the coast, as USGS stream flows were well below normal at many locations and soil moisture has diminished further in recent weeks. Meanwhile, many areas in western and northern Texas (north of the I-10 corridor) saw anywhere from 0.5 to 3 inches (in isolated locations). The heavier rainfall extended southward into the upper Rio Grande Valley where many areas saw 0.25 to 1 inch of rainfall, warranted some reduction in D0, D1, and D2 areas along the river. It is status quo elsewhere for the Southern Region, including southwestern Oklahoma, whose 7-day totals (0.25 to 1 inch) were not enough to cut into rainfall deficits…

Looking Ahead
During the next 5 days (March 12-16), low pressure will be moving into southern California and the Southwest. This will help to deepen troughing over the western CONUS allowing for a southern stream of moisture to develop, enhancing chances for precipitation over California, the Southwest, southern Great Plains, and the Ohio River Valley. Below-normal temperatures (5°F to 10°F) are also expected for much of the West Coast and northern Rockies. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast is likely to see temperatures 5°F to 10°F above normal, south of a lingering frontal boundary.

The 6-10 day (March 17-21) extended range forecast favors an amplified 500-hPa height pattern with Pacific ridging building northward into Alaska, leading to above-normal temperatures and precipitation over much of Mainland Alaska, with near- and below- normal precipitation along the southern coast and southeastern Panhandle. Troughing is favored over much of the western CONUS, enhancing probabilities for below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation in central and southern California and the southern Rockies, which would be welcome for areas with below-normal snowpack. Above-normal precipitation is favored for the eastern two-thirds of the CONUS, as the pattern is favorable for lee-side cyclogenesis east of the Rockies. Weakly above-normal chances for precipitation are favored along the Gulf Coast east of Texas, with below-normal probabilities favored over the drier areas of the Florida Peninsula. The odds favor above-normal temperatures in the eastern half of the lower 48 states.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending March 10, 2020.

The latest “Western Water Briefing” is hot off the presses from the Western Water Assessment

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 12, 2020 via the NRCS.

Click here to read the latest briefing (scroll down):

Despite a relatively dry February and a dry start to March, the snowpack in most of the region remains near normal. Below-average (70-90%) spring-summer streamflow is forecasted for much of the region, while near-average streamflow is forecasted in northern Utah, above-average streamflow is forecasted for the Colorado Headwaters and Yampa River basin, and much-below-average streamflow is forecasted for the San Juan River basin. Drought conditions across the region have changed little in the last month.

West Drought Monitor March 10, 2020.

#ColoradoRiver drought study advances as participants call for fairness between cities, ranches — @WaterEdCO #COriver #aridification

Lake Powell would become home to a special 500,000 acre foot drought pool if Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico agree to save enough water to fill it. Credit: Creative Commons

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

If Colorado decides to join in an historic Colorado River drought protection effort, one that would require setting aside as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell, can it find a fair way to get the work done? A way that won’t cripple farm economies and one which ensures Front Range cities bear their share of the burden?

That was one of the key questions more than 100 people, citizen volunteers and water managers, addressed last week as part of a two-day meeting in Denver to continue exploring whether the state should participate in the effort. The Lake Powell drought pool, authorized by Congress last year as part of the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, would help protect Coloradans if the Colorado River, at some point in the future, hits a crisis point, triggering mandatory cutbacks.

But finding ways to set aside that much water, the equivalent of what roughly 1 million people use in a year at home, is a complex proposition. The voluntary program, if created, would pay water users who agree to participate. And it would mean farmers fallowing fields in order to send their water downstream and cities convincing their customers to do with less water in order to do the same. The concept has been dubbed “demand management.”

Among the key issues discussed at the joint Interbasin Compact Committee and demand management work group confab last week is whether there is a truly equitable way to fill the drought pool that doesn’t disproportionately impact one region or sector in the state.

In addition, a majority of participants reported that they wanted any drought plan to include environmental analyses to ensure whichever methods are selected don’t harm streams and river habitat.

Some pointed to the need to identify “tipping points” when reduced water use would create harmful economic effects in any given community, and suggested that demand management be viewed as a shared responsibility.

Flipping the narrative of shared responsibility, participants said sharing benefits equally was important as well. They want to ensure that people selected to participate would do so on a time-limited basis, so that a wide variety of entities have the opportunity to benefit from the payments coming from what is likely to be a multi-million-dollar program.

“People are starting to get it,” said Russell George. George is a former lawmaker who helped create the 15-year-old public collaborative program which facilitates and helps negotiate issues that arise among Colorado’s eight major river basins and metro area via basin roundtables. He chairs the Interbasin Compact Committee, composed of delegates from those roundtables.

“It’s understood that we have to be fair about this and we have to share [the burden] or it won’t work. I think we’re making great progress,” George said.

The Colorado River is a major source of the state’s water, with all Western Slope and roughly half of Front Range water supplies derived from its flows.

But growing populations, chronic drought and climate change pose sharp risks to the river’s ability to sustain all who depend on it. The concept behind the drought pool is to help reduce the threat of future mandatory cutbacks to Colorado water users under the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The public demand management study process, facilitated by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, has caused concern among different user groups, including farmers. Because growers consume so much of the state’s water, they worry that they are the biggest target for water use reductions, which could directly harm their livelihoods if the program isn’t implemented carefully and on a temporary basis.

In early 2019 the seven states that comprise the Colorado River Basin—Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the Upper Basin—agreed for the first time to a series of steps, known as the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, to help stave off a crisis on the river.

Colorado River Basin. Map credit: The Water Education Foundation

And while Lower Basin states have already begun cutting back water use in order to store more in Lake Mead, the four Upper Basin states are still studying how best to participate to shore up Lake Powell. For the drought pool program to move forward, all four states would need to agree and contribute to the pool. George pointed to Colorado as a leader among the four states, saying it would likely be responsible for contributing as much as 250,000 acre-feet to the pool.

“We appreciate the focus, dedication and collaboration of our work group members,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell in a statement. “This workshop was the next step in sharing ideas for Colorado’s water future, and positioning our state as a national leader for cooperative problem solving.”

The eight major volunteer work groups, addressing such topics as the law, the environment, agriculture and water administration, will continue meeting throughout the year, with a mid-point report based on their findings to date due out sometime this summer.

Travis Smith, a former CWCB board member from Del Norte who is now participating on the agriculture work group, said he is hopeful that the work groups will be able to come up with a plan the public will endorse. Any final plan will likely have to be approved by Colorado lawmakers.

“Coming together to address Colorado’s water future is something we’ve been practicing through the [nine river basin roundtables] for years. Will we get there? Absolutely,” Smith said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

The latest #ENSO discussion is hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center

Click here to read the discussion:

ENSO Alert System Status: Not Active
Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored for the Northern Hemisphere spring 2020 (~65% chance), continuing through summer 2020 (~55% chance).

During February 2020, above-average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were evident across the western, central, and far eastern Pacific Ocean. The latest weekly Niño-3.4 and Niño-3 indices were near-to-above average (+0.5°C and +0.1°C, respectively), with the Niño-4 and Niño-1+2 indices warmer, at +1.1°C. Equatorial subsurface temperatures (averaged across 180°-100°W) remained above average during the month, with positive anomalies spanning the western to the east-central equatorial Pacific, from the surface to ~150m depth. Also during the month, low-level westerly wind anomalies persisted over the western tropical Pacific Ocean, while upper-level wind anomalies were mostly westerly over the eastern half of the basin. Tropical convection remained suppressed over Indonesia and was enhanced near and just west of the Date Line. While the equatorial Southern Oscillation index (SOI) was negative, the traditional SOI was near average. Overall, the combined oceanic and atmospheric system remained consistent with ENSO-neutral.

The majority of models in the IRI/CPC plume favor ENSO-neutral (Niño-3.4 index between -0.5°C and +0.5°C) through the Northern Hemisphere fall. Despite elevated Niño 3.4 index values in the near-term, the forecaster consensus expects the Niño-3.4 index values will decrease gradually through the spring and summer. In summary, ENSO-neutral is favored for the Northern Hemisphere spring 2020 (~65% chance), continuing through summer 2020 (~55% chance; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period).

Study Finds Staggering Economic Benefit From Protecting Wetlands — The Revelator

Florida mangroves ecoregion — in the coastal swamps of Florida. Aerial photograph of Florida wetlands. Credits Image from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/wetlands-and-swamps-public-domain-images-pictures/mangrove-plants-swamp-in-florida.jpg.html

From The Revalator (Kimberly M. S. Cartier):

For example, in Florida, the loss of just 3% of wetland coverage resulted in $480 million in property damage during just one hurricane.

Mangrove forests, marshes, and seagrass beds protect inland areas from storm surges and strong winds. Over long periods, coastal wetlands like these build up sediment that mitigates sea level rise and local land subsidence.

A new analysis of property damage from Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastal storms has shown that counties with larger wetlands suffered lower property damage costs than did counties with smaller wetlands.

“Starting in 1996, the U.S. government started to produce damage estimates for each tropical cyclone in a consistent manner,” explained coauthor Richard Carson, an economist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in La Jolla. Before that, the data were collected only for hurricanes, which hindered past attempts to put a price on the marginal value, or price per unit, of wetlands, he said.

With the complete data set, the researchers examined all 88 tropical cyclones and hurricanes that affected the United States starting in 1996. That time period includes Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

A Protective and Economic Boon

In addition to property damage data for tropical cyclones of all strengths, “our data set has considerably more spatial resolution,” Carson said, “which is a result of large amounts of information on storm tracks, property location, and wetland location all being digitized for use in a geographical information system basis.”

First author Fanglin Sun, formerly at UCSD and now an economist at Amazon.com, added that “areas subject to flood risk in a county are more accurately estimated, based on local elevation data and detailed information on individual storm trajectories” and wind speeds throughout affected areas.

The finer level of detail for the storm data let the researchers finally begin connecting wetland coverage and storm damage on a county-by-county basis, Carson said. “A storm track moving a couple of kilometers one direction or the other allows the amount of wetland protection to vary within the same county.”

In terms of property damage, Sun and Carson found that a square kilometer of wetlands saved an average of $1.8 million per year. Over the next 30 years, an average unit of wetlands could save $36 million in storm damage.

Some wetlands were valued at less than $800 per year per square kilometer and some at nearly $100 million. That marginal value depended on many factors, including a county’s property values, existing wetland coverage, coastline shape, elevation, building codes, and chance of actually experiencing damaging winds. And each of those variables fluctuated over the 20 years the team studied.

Overall, the highest-valued wetlands were in urban counties with large populations and the lowest-valued were in rural areas with small populations. However, wetlands provided a greater relative savings against weaker cyclones and in counties with less stringent building codes — areas that might not expect or plan for a tropical storm.

The team found no significant difference in the marginal value of saltwater versus freshwater wetlands or mangroves versus marshes. “Forested wetlands tend to be better at reducing wind speed and marshes tend to be better at absorbing water,” Carson said, “so the specific nature of the storm when it hits an area is likely to matter. [But] our results suggest that, on average, there is no difference.”

The team published these results in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America on March 3.

Wetlands at Risk

Most areas that have experienced storm-related property damage in the past 20 years have also lost wetland coverage, the researchers found. They calculated that Floridians would have been spared $480 million in property damage from Hurricane Irma alone had the state’s wetland coverage not shrunk by 2.8% in the decade prior.

Moreover, recent changes to the Clean Water Act have made the remaining coastal wetlands more vulnerable.

“The federal government, with respect to the U.S. Clean Water Act, took the position that the previous wetland studies were not reliable enough for use in assessing the benefits and cost of protecting wetlands,” Carson said.

“The value coastal wetlands provide for storm protection is substantial and should be taken into account as policy makers debate the Clean Water Act,” Sun said. “It’s also worth noting,” she added, “that storm protection for property is just one of many ecological services that wetlands provide. We hope our study will spur future research quantifying these other services as well.”

With tropical storms and hurricanes expected to happen more often because of climate change, the team wrote, wetlands will be more economically valuable than ever.

This story first appeared on Eos.

@NOAA: March 2020 #ENSO update: puzzle time

From NOAA (Emily Becker):

The ocean surface in the central tropical Pacific has been warmer than the long-term average for a few months now, but overall the ocean-atmosphere system is still in neutral—neither El Niño nor La Niña. The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast team estimates about a 65% chance that the tropical Pacific will continue in ENSO-neutral this spring, and about a 55% chance neutral will remain through the summer. We’ll take a spin through the current situation, and lay out some of the puzzle pieces forecasters look at when assembling a picture of ENSO in the future.

First, though—does anyone remember why we spend so much time and energy predicting the evolution of the temperature of the tropical Pacific Ocean? If you guessed “because El Niño and La Niña have impacts on weather and climate around the world and can be predicted in advance,” you get a gold star! While nothing is a sure bet when you’re making predictions, a developing El Niño or La Niña can provide some valuable clues about upcoming seasonal climate. For more on that, check out Tom’s post.

With that important piece of housekeeping out of the way, it’s on to current conditions. As I mentioned above, the tropical Pacific has been hovering a bit warmer than average through the winter, including in our primary monitoring region, Niño3.4. The February Niño3.4 index was 0.4°C above the 1986-2015 average, according to the ERSSTv5 dataset, our most consistent long-term record. This is just a hair below the El Niño threshold of 0.5°C warmer than average.

Monthly sea surface temperature in the Niño 3.4 region of the tropical Pacific for 2019-2020 (purple line) and all other years starting from neutral winters since 1950. Climate.gov graph based on ERSSTv5 temperature data.

The atmosphere in the tropical Pacific region actually looked a bit El Niño-y (El Niño-ish? These are not real words) last month, with greater-than-average amounts of rain and clouds over the central tropical Pacific, and less over Indonesia. Also, the near-surface winds over the western tropical Pacific were weaker than average.

However, some atmospheric features are not consistent with El Niño, such as the atmospheric pressure difference at sea level between Tahiti and Darwin, which is known as the Southern Oscillation Index. Also, most computer models predict we’ll remain ENSO-neutral (neither El Niño nor La Niña) in the coming seasons. I went into more detail about the forecast process last month—this month was quite similar, so head over to that post if you would like more information.

Brain teasers
Getting into late summer and next fall, though, some models predict that the Niño3.4 index could drop below the La Niña threshold of 0.5°C cooler than the long-term average. So are we gearing up for La Niña next winter? Perhaps, but we’re giving it lower odds. Forecasters are putting the odds of La Niña at around 35-40% by next fall, but there are reasons why we’re not giving La Niña a big edge.

Official CPC/IRI forecast of the odds of El Niño, neutral ENSO and La Niña conditions issued in mid-March.

First, check out that Niño3.4 graph a few paragraphs up. The gray lines show every year since 1950 that started from an ENSO-neutral winter like the one we’ve just had. In 22 examples, La Niña has not followed a neutral winter once! Does that mean it’s impossible? Definitely not! But it would be something we haven’t observed before.

Another consideration is the spring predictability barrier. Forecasts made in March, April, and May tend to be less reliable than forecasts made during the rest of the year. This is partly because spring is often a transition time between El Niño, La Niña, and neutral. Also, the tropical Pacific has a particularly narrow temperature range in the spring, with only about 2°C separating the warmest spring Niño3.4 and the coolest. For comparison, the range in winter is more than 5.5°C. Predicting a small change is tougher than predicting a larger one, contributing to the spring barrier.

Trivia night
We’re always looking for more context to interpret model predictions, especially in the spring. An interesting study by friend-of-the-Blog Mike Tippett, of Columbia University, shows that the tendency of the Niño3.4 index in the spring does not have a strong relationship with the tendency through the summer. By “tendency” I mean the direction of the month-to-month change in Niño3.4 temperature. So, if the March Niño3.4 sea surface is cooler than February, that would be a cooling tendency. Mike compared the tendency in February–March to that in April–July.

The relationship between the February–March tendency of the Niño3.4 Index to the April–July tendency. Tendency is the change between February and March, or April to July. The blue line indicates the linear regression model that best fits the data. If the relationship between these two tendencies were very strong, the dots would lie close to the line. If there were no relationship at all, they would be scattered randomly all over the graph. Figure by climate.gov from Mike Tippett’s data.

He found that the relationship between spring and summer tendencies is not particularly strong (see footnote*). And, when the spring tendency is very small, it provides even less information about the summer. We don’t yet know what the March Niño3.4 index will be, but it’s likely that it will be very close to February, meaning a tendency close to zero. In the past, a February–March with little change has preceded a wide variety of April–July outcomes. So, while this may help us make predictions in future springs, currently we are not seeing a strong favorite for upcoming ENSO conditions.

The spring barrier will hang around through May, but we’re here year-round. Thanks for checking in. You can look forward to Michelle taking the helm for the April ENSO Update!

* Mike used linear least squares regression, which finds the closest fit of a line to the scatter points in the graph. He found a correlation between the Feb–Mar and Apr–Jul tendencies of 0.46. A correlation of 0.46 equals an explained variance of about 21%: meaning about 21% of the behavior of the Apr–Jul tendency can be predicted based on Feb–Mar.

The Dolores Town Board approves water and sewer rate increases


From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

The Dolores Town Board [March 9, 2020] raised rates for water and sewer services, increased funding for the farmers market, and preliminarily approved property transactions and a solar project.

Beginning May 1, the water rate will increase by $5 per month, to $30.84 per month, a 19.3% increase. The sewer rate will rise $2.25, to $30.91, a 7.8 percent increase. Rates were last increased in 2015, 2009 and 2006.

The board and town staff said increases are needed to fund rising maintenance costs and system upgrades to the 50-year old infrastructure. It passed by a 6-0 vote.

The increase will help finance a $650,000 project to replace deteriorating water lines beneath Colorado Highway 145. Nine deteriorating lines need to be replaced before the Colorado Department of Transportation repaves the highway in 2021.

To help pay for the project, the town has applied for a $292,630 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. To cover the 100% grant match, the town would pull from reserves and take out a 4% interest loan, with payments covered by the monthly $5 water rate increase. Revenues from the increases will also help build water and sewer budget reserves for future maintenance and improvements.

The town board created a task force to research a potential tiered water use billing system that would incentivise water savings.

2020 November election: #ColoradoRiver District Board to consider property tax ballot measure — the Watch #COriver #aridification

Ridgway Reservoir during winter

From the Watch (Tanya Ishikawa):

Property owners in 15 Western Slope counties could be asked to pay an average of $7.65 more in annual property taxes to the Colorado River Water Conservation District, if its board votes to place the question on the November ballot. District general manager Andy Mueller has proposed the property tax increase to make up for declining funding and create a new pot of money for water supply projects developed by local partners in each county.

“The money would help us with structural deficits caused by Gallagher, TABOR and the decline of the fossil fuel industry in the district,” Mueller said…

To address declining funding, the district eliminated a grant program for small projects and reduced expenses by cutting staff by 16 percent, which was four employees. Thevehicle fleet was also cut by 25 percent and the travel budget by 20 percent…

Mueller is recommending the district ask for an increase in property taxes from the current 0.252 mills to 0.500 mills, as well as exempting the spending limits from the TABOR law. The district’s property tax revenues, which were $4.1 million in 2018, would increase to approximately $9 million if voters passed the ballot measure.

The median home value would see an annual district property tax increase from $6.03 to $11.96. For homes valued at $300,000, district taxes would go from about $5 to $10 per year.

Marti Whitmore, who is Ouray County’s representative on the district’s board, said, “I tend to believe that this is a very reasonable proposal. On my house, it would result in a tax increase of less than $11 per year. I think it is important for the river district to be able to have funds to assist Western Slope communities in developing and ensuring adequate water supplies for all uses—agriculture, municipal, commercial/industrial — as well as non-consumptive uses such as recreation, fishing, boating or rafting, and so on. We will benefit from this increased support from the river district in Ouray County.”

Mueller is recommending that 20 percent of the property tax increase go toward remedying budget shortfalls for staffing and operations. His proposal is for the other 80 percent to fund projects through partnerships primarily with local governments and water users groups that manage agricultural irrigation supplies.

“We are looking for projects where we can partner with multiple sectors of the community; agricultural, municipal, recreation and others to find projects that work well for all of them,” he explained. “We have identified projects that have those types of attributes in all 15 of our counties to help the communities become more resilient in times of change.”

He said one good use of the new project fund would be a water storage or augmentation plan in Ouray County, which proposes building the Ram’s Horn Reservoir in the Uncompahgre National Forest in the Cimarron Mountains and a pipeline from Cow Creek to Ridgway Reservoir. The project would take much more than the estimated $80,000 per year in property taxes that would come from Ouray County if the ballot measure passes…

The district board, which is made up of one appointed representative from each of its 15 counties, heard the property tax proposal at its January meeting but took no action. The board asked staff to bring more information to its next quarterly meeting on April 21-22, where the board is likely to vote on whether to put the question on this November’s ballot. The meeting will be at the Colorado River District building at 201 Centennial St. in Glenwood Springs, and is open to the public.

#EagleRiver Watershed Council: What in the watershed?

Here’s a guest column from the Eagle River Watershed Council that’s running in the Vail Daily:

Dear ERWC: Winter is certainly going to return, but with a warm week behind us I’m thinking about spring cleaning and one of the items on my list is the adventure vehicle. What is the best way to clean my truck with the least impact on our rivers? — Mike, Eagle

Mike: Some might say the answer is to wash at home, where one has direct control regarding water usage and detergent choice. However, when it comes to the health of our watershed and overall water quality, that’s actually not recommended.

Washing a car at home can be more economical and allows time to get into the nitty-gritty details, but what it doesn’t allow for is the capture of contaminated water.

Modern and established car washes adhere to strict standards set in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Through the Clean Water Act, they’re required to capture the water running off your car — full of phosphates, oils, dirt and other chemicals — and route it to treatment facilities or approved drainage facilities.

This allows for all of those chemicals to be neutralized and removed before entering the waterways. The drains at the end of driveways are for stormwater and they flow directly into our rivers and streams with no treatment whatsoever.

Water quantity should also be taken into consideration, especially given that we are in the arid west and water is a precious resource. Commercial car washes use 60% less water on average compared to washing a car at home, making them far more efficient at removing the six months of road dirt and magnesium chloride caked on your SUV.

Here in Colorado, commercial car washes are able to use “reclaimed water” or wastewater that has been treated to a safe level but can’t be used for drinking water. This reduces the stress on drinking water supplies and reduces the energy used for treatment.

There is an appropriate way to wash your car at home, should you decide that is still best for you. The EPA recommends the use of biodegradable detergents that are water-based and free of phosphates. It is also a best practice to wash vehicles on a lawn or similar surface. This allows for the contaminants to filter out through the ground before entering the streams — and hey, this waters your lawn too. Additionally, it is recommended to use some form of spray control, such as a pressure washer or other hose attachment to reduce water usage.

Are you curious about critters around the rivers? Do you want to know how snowpack is measured? Do you have questions about our watershed? The Watershed Council has answers! You can email dilzell@erwc.org with your questions – and they might just be featured in articles like this one in our new series: What in the Watershed?

James Dilzell is the Education & Outreach Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit erwc.org.