2022 Ark Basin Water Forum returns to the Salida Steam Plant “Risk and Resilience in the Arkansas Basin” restores in-person event after 2-year pandemic pause”
The 26th episode of the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum, the basin’s premiere water event, will feature the state’s top water experts discussing critical issues facing all segments of water users – agriculture, municipal, recreation, environmental and industrial – and engage attendees in seeking solutions to the many challenges faced in planning for a secure water future for the largest of Colorado’s river basins.
Taking place Thursday and Friday, April 28-29, the 2022 Arkansas River Basin Water Forum will focus on “Risk and Resilience in the Arkansas Basin,” exploring topics that include the effect of Colorado River policies on the Arkansas River, ongoing drought and potential aridification in the southwestern United States, the impact of wildfires on water supplies, and much more (see attached draft program).
Keynote presentations will be provided by Dan Gibbs, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and Chris Sturm, Watershed Program Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board.
The Forum format continues to evolve, influenced by attendee needs and the resources available to provide interactive experiences for attendees. In addition to expert presentations and panel discussions in the morning sessions, a variety of outdoor field trips will be offered on the afternoons of both days of the Forum. Full information on registering for the Forum, including afternoon field trips, is online at http://www.arbwf.org.
Registration costs for the Forum remain an excellent value:
Two-day full registration, including lunches – $200
One-day registration, either Thursday or Friday, including lunch – $100
Percolation and Runoff networking dinner – $20
Plan on joining us Thursday evening for what is, hands-down, one of the funnest parts of the Forum. Not to be missed, the Percolation and Runoff social networking event is designed to raise money for our college scholarship fund. The $20 cost includes a delicious dinner, drinks and sparkling conversation. You won’t find a better dinner and drinks deal in Salida. All proceeds from this event support the scholarship fund, helping us to help students and working professionals in their education and research in water resources, watershed studies, hydrology, natural resources management and other water-related fields.
For more information, contact Jean van Pelt, Forum Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Water news seems dreadful these days, with a megadrought in the Colorado River Basin, hydropower at risk in a fast-draining Lake Powell and a warming climate assuring these issues will only get worse.
So, amid these calamities, Denver Water wants to cite a small measure of good news: Soil moisture levels in parts of Colorado have improved.
Yes, this may only be a temporary blip on a downhill slide, but let’s celebrate what we can.
Soil moisture is a key indicator of drought conditions and has a big impact on water supplies. That’s because dry, thirsty soils can drink up a lot of the snowmelt that otherwise would flow into rivers and reservoirs.
Here’s an example from Denver Water’s own system: In 2021, snowpack above Dillon Reservoir peaked at 88% of normal. It wasn’t a banner year for snowpack, but it wasn’t terrible either. But dry soils made the lower snowpack levels far worse — runoff was only 57% of normal.
“The low soil moisture soaked up a lot of the melting snow before it reached rivers and reservoirs,” explained Nathan Elder, water supply manager for Denver Water.
The 2019-20 water year told a similar story, when snowpack peaked at 124% in the South Platte Basin but runoff came in at just 54% of average at one key measuring point.
This year, water forecasters expect a better scenario. That’s because a big monsoon season on the West Slope and in the mountains last summer brought soil moisture levels up. Snowstorms on the Front Range throughout the winter helped soils here, too.
“This year, with soil moisture better, we are expecting more runoff from the snowpack,” Elder said.
Currently, snowpack above Dillon is 87% of normal and, because of greater moisture within the soil, streamflow forecasts are higher too — 82% of normal, a big improvement from last year.
Evidence of the improvement in soil moisture comes thanks to data from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a federal agency that closely tracks such matters.
The numbers can be complicated, but one way to understand the impact of the soil moisture is in what Denver Water’s water supply managers call “runoff efficiency.”
In a year when soil moisture numbers are just slightly below normal — such as this year — you can expect runoff volumes to be 10% to 15% less than the peak snowpack number.
In a year when soil moisture conditions are worse, as we’ve seen in several recent cases, the dry soils can reduce runoff efficiency by 15% to 20%. That can translate to a big cut in water supply.
Another key measure comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor map. That map shows the Denver metro area — as well as much of Denver Water’s collection area — in “abnormally dry” conditions. That may sound bad, but it is actually a marked improvement from recent months when much of the state was in various stages of drought.
A year ago, the region’s drought levels ranged from “moderate” to “extreme” drought.
Things can still change, of course.
Should we get a long spell of warm, dry weather this spring, the situation could become worse. But, at this point in early spring, things look a bit better than in recent years.
“We’ll obviously be watching our watersheds and the weather closely,” Elder said. “But we take the good news where we can get it and, at least for the moment, we’re happy to see these conditions.”
April brought heavy rain to parts of the Midwest, South, and Southeast leading to broad areas of drought improvement in these regions. Meanwhile, drought expanded and intensified in the West with many locations setting records for the driest 3-month period (January to March). The High Plains remained largely unchanged this week with small pockets of improvements and degradations…
South-central Colorado saw a reduction in severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought. Last week’s precipitation continued a trend of wetter-than-normal conditions that’s been in place since the start of the year. Short- and long-term indicators including precipitation, snowpack, soil moisture, and stream flow are responding to the excess moisture. Severe drought also decreased in southwest Wyoming for similar reasons. Kansas saw drought worsen in the west and improve in the east. D3 expanded in southwest Kansas, where precipitation deficits are less than 10 percent of normal over the last 60 to 90 days. Other indicators supporting this assessment include increased evaporative demand and soil moisture. In eastern Kansas, the map depicts a continuation of improvements made last week. In south-central Nebraska, moderate drought expanded in response to increasing precipitation deficits, dry soil moisture indicators, and reports of low stock ponds. The rest of the region remained unchanged this week. State drought monitoring teams have all noted the increasing dryness across the region…
Parts of the Northwest saw a healthy dose of precipitation and mountain snow during the past week. In most cases, this precipitation fell over areas free from drought or simply wasn’t enough to bring relief to drought impacted areas. Only southwest Oregon saw improvement with a small decline in moderate drought (D1). Oregon also saw an expansion of drought of severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought. Water-year-to-date (October 1 to April 5) precipitation fell short and warmer-than-normal temperatures caused rapid and early melt out to the state’s snowpack. Soil moisture and shallow groundwater indicators are reflecting the worsening conditions. In the southeast part of the state, the drought monitoring team noted impacts including extremely dry soil conditions, a lack of surface water, and poor pasture forage conditions. Central Washington, Idaho, and northwest Montana also saw increases in drought extent or severity as short-term dryness continues to build upon long-term moisture deficits extending back to last year. Many parts of southern Idaho, and the rest of the West, have set records for the driest 3-month period (January to March) going back 100 years or more. Meanwhile near record warmth increased evaporative demand from plants and soils. Farther south, extreme drought (D3) expanded in parts of California, Nevada, and New Mexico while moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought expanded across Arizona. In California, Cooperative Extension reports impacts to agriculture including reduced forage, livestock stress, decreased water allocation, and the selling livestock earlier than normal. Data such as reduced stream flows and declines in satellite-based vegetation health and soil moisture indicators confirm these reports…
Like last week, the South saw drought worsen across west and south Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Above-normal temperatures combined with below-normal precipitation and high winds exacerbated conditions. Drought indicators supporting the degradations include increasing precipitation deficits, dry surface and root zone soil moisture and low stream flow. One-category improvements were made to drought conditions across east Texas, southern Arkansas, north and central Louisiana and Mississippi as the effects of the recent wet pattern propagated through indicators such as streamflow, soil moisture, and vegetation. Note that the heavy, solid black line separating the part of the region experience short-term drought was modified to reflect the effects of the recent rain…
The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center (valid April 7 – April 9) calls for another storm system to move across the eastern half of the Lower 48. Multi-day snow is expected over the long-term drought areas in the Upper Midwest. Drought areas in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic are expected to see rain. Meanwhile, dry weather is expected across much of the drought-stricken Plains and West. An approaching front moving into the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies will bring rain and snow. Moving into the weekend, the forecast (valid April 9 – 13) calls for rain and high elevation snow and well below normal temperatures across the West. The colder temperatures, rain, and snow will reach into the northern and central Plains by early next week. At 8 – 14 days, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (valid April 14 – 20) calls for below normal temperatures over much of the western and central U.S. and Alaska. Above normal temperatures are predicted over the east and west coasts. Near to above normal precipitation is favored for the Central Rockies eastward. Below normal precipitation is favored over California, Nevada, southeastern New Mexico, and southwestern Texas.
Here’s a gallery of early April US Drought Monitor maps for the past few years.
March consisted of fairly typical spring weather across the region and featured both warm/dry periods that generated snowmelt and more active cool/wet periods that brought rain to lower elevations and snow to higher elevations. Much of the region received moisture during March, but monthly precipitation totals were generally below average. January-March has been very dry across the region, with precipitation ranking in the bottom five of the historical gage record at most SNOTEL sites across Utah, southwest Wyoming, and western Colorado during the three-month period.
Below average March precipitation across much of the region led to declines in percent of normal SWE values across most basins over the past month. April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) conditions generally range between 75-105% of normal across the Upper Colorado River Basin and 65-85% of normal across the Great Basin. Snow across the Lower Colorado River Basin has mostly melted out with the majority of SNOTEL stations across Arizona reporting less than an inch of SWE.
Water supply forecast volumes decreased over the past month across most of the Great Basin and Colorado River Basin as a result of below normal March precipitation. Upper Colorado River Basin water supply forecasts generally range between 40-100% of the 1991-2020 historical April-July average. Great Basin water supply forecasts are 30-80% of average. Lower Colorado River Basin January-May water supply runoff volume forecasts are 10-65% of the 1991-2020 historical median.
April 1 water supply forecast ranges (percent of normal) by basin:
April-July unregulated inflow forecasts for some of the major reservoirs in the Upper Colorado River Basin include Fontenelle 435 KAF (59% average), Flaming Gorge 520 KAF (54%), Green Mountain 230 KAF (82%), Blue Mesa 530 KAF (83%), McPhee 152 KAF (60%), and Navajo 390 KAF (62%). The Lake Powell inflow forecast is 4.1 MAF (64% of average), which is a five percent decrease from March.
Warm and dry conditions are expected across the region through the start of this weekend. A shift into an active weather pattern is expected later this weekend into next week. Most of the region will see several periods of precipitation next week, with higher terrain likely to receive over an inch of precipitation.
For specific site water supply forecasts click here
March consisted of fairly typical spring weather across the region and featured both warm/dry periods that generated snowmelt and more active cool/wet periods that brought rain to lower elevations and snow to higher elevations. Two periods of above normal temperatures near the beginning (March 1-3) and end (March 26-29) of the month led to snowmelt below around 9,500 feet, which is not uncommon for this time of year. March minimum temperatures were mostly above average across the region while March maximum temperatures were near average.
Much of the region received moisture during March, but monthly precipitation totals were generally below average. Across western Colorado March precipitation was around 70-90% of average. A few small areas received near to above average monthly precipitation, most notably along the western interior of Colorado and around the Utah-Wyoming-Colorado border near the confluence of the mainstem of the Green River with the Duchesne/White/Yampa Rivers. SNOTEL stations in the eastern Uintas reported March precipitation values around 100-150% of average, however the Wyoming Range just north of this area in southwest Wyoming received much less precipitation during March with SNOTEL stations generally 30-50% of average and ranking in the driest five on record for the month. The Upper Green River Basin in southwest Wyoming has had a very dry extended period, with precipitation during February and March ranking as the driest on record at most SNOTEL stations in the Upper Green River Basin.
March precipitation was mostly below normal across the Great Basin and generally ranged between 50-80% of average at SNOTEL stations. Precipitation during February and March ranked in the driest three at most SNOTEL locations across the northern Great Basin.
March precipitation across the Lower Colorado River Basin was variable with most basins receiving below average monthly precipitation. Virgin River Basin March precipitation was 40-65% of average. A number of SNOTEL stations across central Arizona along the divide of the Verde/Salt/Little Colorado basins received near average precipitation during March. March precipitation across the Upper Gila River Basin in west central Arizona was below normal (30-50% of average).
Water Year Precipitation
Water year precipitation has been highly variable from month-to-month and is shown in the image below. October and December precipitation was above to much above average over most of the region while November, January, February, and March precipitation was below to much below average. After a very wet December, the January-March three month period has been very dry across the region. January-March precipitation was around 35-55% of average across Utah, southwest Wyoming, and Arizona, and around 50-85% of average across western Colorado. Furthermore, January-March precipitation ranks in the bottom five of the historical gage record at most SNOTEL sites across Utah, southwest Wyoming, and western Colorado.
April 1 snow water equivalent (SWE) conditions are generally near to below the 1991-2020 normal (median) across the region and are summarized in the below table. Below average March precipitation and snowmelt across much of the region led to declines in percent of normal SWE values in most basins over the past month.
Upper Colorado River Basin April 1 SWE conditions range from 75-105% of normal and did not change significantly in the past month. Upper Colorado River Basin SWE conditions continue to be most favorable along the divide of the Roaring Fork and Gunnison River Basins in western Colorado, where SWE conditions are around 105% of normal. SWE conditions are 80-90% of normal in the Duchesne, White/Yampa, Dolores, and the headwaters of the Upper Colorado River. The very dry January-March weather across southwest Wyoming has led to a steady decline in snowpack conditions across the Upper Green River Basin, where April 1 SNOTEL SWE conditions are around 75% of normal and ranked in the bottom five of the historical gage record.
Below average March precipitation across the Great Basin led to modest declines in SWE conditions over the past month. April 1 SWE conditions range from 65-85% across the Great Basin, with conditions generally increasing from north to south and faring the best across the Sevier River Basin in south central Utah. Northern Great Basin (Bear, Weber, Provo/Utah Lake) early April snowpack conditions are poor with April 1 SWE values generally below the 25 th percentile.
Snowpack conditions across the Lower Colorado River Basin are more variable and tend to fluctuate more frequently over time, with April 1 SWE conditions often based on just a few SNOTEL stations that haven’t melted out. Early April snow across the Lower Colorado River Basin has mostly melted out with the majority of SNOTEL stations across Arizona reporting less than an inch of SWE. Most of the remaining SWE across the Lower Colorado River Basin exists in the Virgin River Basin in southwest Utah, where April 1 SWE is near normal. There are also a few higher elevation SNOTEL stations along the divide of the Verde and Little Colorado basins in central Arizona reporting greater than five inches of SWE.
The images below show observed snow conditions and CBRFC hydrologic model snow conditions.
For updated SNOTEL information refer to click here For CBRFC hydrologic model snow click here
For CBRFC hydrologic model snow click here
CBRFC model fall soil moisture conditions impact early season water supply forecasts and the efficiency of spring runoff. Above average fall soil moisture conditions have a positive impact on early season water supply forecasts while below average conditions have a negative impact. The impacts are most pronounced when soil moisture conditions and snowpack conditions are both much above or much below average. The timing and magnitude of spring runoff is ultimately a result of SWE conditions, spring weather (precipitation/temperature), and antecedent soil moisture conditions.
A wet monsoon season and above average October precipitation improved soil moisture conditions, especially across Utah and Arizona. Fall (antecedent) soil moisture conditions are improved from a year ago but remain below average across many of the major runoff producing areas. Larger than normal antecedent soil moisture deficits exist across much of western Colorado and are expected to negatively impact early spring runoff efficiency. Fall model soil moisture conditions are closer to normal across southwest Wyoming and Utah and even above normal in parts of the Duchesne River Basin.
Soil moisture conditions tend to fluctuate more in the Lower Colorado River Basin of Arizona and New Mexico in the winter due to the frequency of rain events and possibility of melting snow. Soil conditions in the fall are less informative than they are in the northern basins that remain under snowpack throughout the winter season. Basins with above average soil moisture conditions can be expected to experience more efficient runoff from rainfall or snowmelt while basins with below average soil moisture conditions can be expected to have lower runoff efficiency until soil moisture deficits are fulfilled.
Model soil moisture conditions across the Lower Colorado River Basin have improved from a year ago as a result of above average monsoon season precipitation and storm activity that has occurred during the water year. However, below normal January-March precipitation across Arizona and southwest New Mexico has led to declines in soil moisture conditions over the past several months. Early April model soil moisture conditions are mostly below normal across the Lower Colorado River Basin.
Dry and warm conditions are expected across the region through the start of this weekend due to an upper-level ridge over the western US. By the end of this weekend, this ridge will move east, allowing for a shift into an active weather pattern next week. Most of the region will see several periods of precipitation next week, with higher terrain likely to receive over an inch of precipitation. Elsewhere will likely receive between 0.25 to 0.50 inches of precipitation. Below average temperatures will accompany this period of active weather. In the long range forecast beyond next week, a return to drier weather is likely to occur as another ridge is favored to set up over the Eastern Pacific, though temperatures should remain below average across the region.
New water tap sales in Pueblo West could be limited to 400 this year to try to slow explosive growth in the face of a dwindling water supply, Pueblo West Metro District officials said at a meeting Tuesday.
The district’s water team proposed that around 1,050 water taps should be sold over the next three years, a middle-ground figure between FCS Group consultant Jason Mumm’s estimate that Pueblo West will have enough water to serve about 2,771 new water taps and a more conservative estimate from Alan Leak at RESPEC who estimated the district has enough water for about 695 new taps. District water officials recommended the sale of 400 water taps this year, 400 next year and just 100 in 2024. The remaining 150 taps should be “held in reserve for sale at the board’s discretion,” they proposed.
Last year, Pueblo West sold 538 water taps, said Jeffrey DeHerrera, deputy director of utilities. The recommendation to scale back sales isn’t set in stone and can be reevaluated as the district obtains more water resources, he said. Director of Utilities Jim Blasing agreed, pointing out his team is aggressively seeking what water rights it can get on behalf of Pueblo West. The board will reach a recommendation when it meets Monday and water tap sales could resume the next day, after being suspended since Jan. 24…
Pueblo West Metro District Board President Doug Proal said staff are working on a plan to roll out taps fairly. The board’s recommendations, along with what new water taps will cost and by how much water and sewer rates will increase, are expected to be decided on at the board’s meeting on Monday at 5 p.m. at Fire Station 3, 729 E. Gold Drive.