#Drought News (September 1, 2022): Large areas of improvement in W. #Colorado #Monsoon2022

Click a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

High Plains

Warm, dry conditions continued across much of the region with the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas seeing some areas of worsening conditions. In Nebraska and Kansas, all levels of drought expanded as short-term precipitation deficits, on top of long-term dryness, continued to deplete soil moisture and stress vegetation. Exceptional (D4) drought expanded in the southwest where rainfall deficits of over 3.5 inches have occurred over the last 90 days. Extreme (D3), severe (D2) and moderate (D1) drought expanded in the eastern half of Nebraska where rainfall deficits of 3 to nearly 7 inches have occurred over the last 90 days. Other areas of Nebraska seeing degradations include north-central Nebraska, where D2 expanded, and the Panhandle, where D1 expanded. Similarly, Kansas also saw large areas of deterioration. In the western half of the state, D1, D2, D3 and D4 expanded where rainfall deficits near 5 inches occurred over the last 90 days. In the east, improvements were made to D1 where the heaviest rain fell over the last 2 weeks. Improvements were also made in eastern South Dakota to D1 along a band of heavy rain last week.

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 30, 2022.


The North American Monsoon continued to provide excellent rainfall in the Southwest. Many areas in the region only receive about five inches of rain annually, but a few spots have nearly equaled this annual average in the last two weeks alone. Drought conditions improved in areas receiving the heaviest rain. Many drought indicators, including soil moisture, streamflow and well data, are responding to the rainfall. Improvements were made to moderate (D1) and severe (D2) drought in Arizona, extreme (D3) drought in Southern California and eastern Utah, and D2 and D3 conditions in eastern New Mexico. To the north, Montana saw an expansion to abnormally dry (D0) and D1 areas as conditions began to rapidly deteriorate. Low rainfall, combined with high evaporative demand, has lowered streamflow and stressed vegetation there.


Rainfall totals over the past two weeks once again led to broad 1- and 2-category improvements across large parts of the South. For the second week in a row, all states in the region showed improvements as the effect of the rainfall became apparent in drought indicators such as soil moisture, streamflow and vegetation. Rainfall records show that the previous two weeks ranked in the top 10 wettest for this time of year in many locations in the region. Some of these records go back over 100 years. Drought remains in areas that missed out on the recent heavy rains and those in which rainfall deficits still exist at 90-plus days so that deeper soil moisture, shallow groundwater and streamflow indicators have yet to recover. Extreme (D3) drought expanded in northern Oklahoma in the areas that missed out on the heavy rain. Rainfall deficits of nearly 6 inches have continued to dry out soils and stress vegetation.

Looking Ahead

The National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center forecast (valid September 1 – September 4) calls for rainfall over parts of the South, the Southeast, the Central Plains and the Upper Midwest. Meanwhile, dry weather is expected to continue across much of the West, the Northern Plains and the Mid-Atlantic. Moving into next week (valid September 5 – September 8), the forecast calls for continued rain across much of the South and Southeast, while the West, High Plains and parts of the Midwest are expected to remain dry. Heavy rain is expected across portions of the Alaska Panhandle and mainland Alaska. At 8 – 14 days, the Climate Prediction Center Outlook (valid September 8 – September 14) calls for above-normal temperatures across most of the continental U.S. Below-normal to normal temperatures are predicted across southern Arizona, southern New Mexico and West Texas. Below-normal precipitation is favored across much of the northern tier of the continental U.S., while normal to above-normal precipitation is favored for the rest of the continental U.S. Below-normal precipitation is expected across parts of the Pacific Northwest, the Intermountain West, and parts of the Midwest and Northeast.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending August 30, 2022.

Biden-Harris Administration Announces $8.5 Million from Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for #ColoradoRiver #Endangered Species Recovery — USBR #COriver #aridification

RAZORBACK SUCKER The Maybell ditch is home to four endangered fish species [the Humpback chub (Gila cypha), Bonytail (Gila elegans), Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus)] © Linda Whitham/TNC

Click the link to read the article on the Reclamation website (Rob Manning):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced a $8.5 million investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for endangered species recovery and conservation in the Colorado River Basin. Funding will modify the current water intake system at the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery, which supplies razorback sucker and bonytail subadult fish to the Lower Colorado River Multispecies Conservation Program as part of their fish augmentation program.

Given historically low water levels in Lake Mead, the Lake Mead State Fish Hatchery’s current water intake system is unable to deliver water, as it is positioned at a 1050 elevation, above current water levels. As a result, the Hatchery has been forced to cease operations and remove native fish from the hatchery. Grant funding will be provided to the Southern Nevada Water Authority to construct a new water delivery system at the facility that would draw water from a point in Lake Mead below expected lake decline and allow the Lower Colorado Multi-Species Conservation Program to continue operations.

“Investment from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in this program is a proven, effective way to reduce impacts to the environment and endangered fish species that are caused by operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of water diversion facilities,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “With drought putting more pressure than ever on water projects and the environment, the investment announced today will tackle known facility needs and help assure the continued survival of endangered fish species in the Colorado River Basin.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure projects to repair aging water delivery systems, secure dams, complete rural water projects, and protect aquatic ecosystems. This funding includes $300 million specifically set aside for the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which will work to reduce the risk of Lake Mead and Lake Powell reaching critically low elevations.

Detailed information on Reclamation programs and funding provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is available at https://www.usbr.gov/bil/

Battle for Colorado River finds common ground at Windy Gap: Collaboration instead of competition makes Granby’s #ColoradoRiver Connectivity Channel Project a Reality — The Sky-Hi News #COriver #aridification

Dignitaries from across the region gathered on Aug. 23 to celebrate the start of construction at the Colorado River Connectivity Channel located in Grand County. Led by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, leaders of public agencies and private non-governmental organizations extolled the value of the project that will reconnect two segments of the Colorado River above and below Windy Gap Reservoir. Dirt was turned on the existing Windy Gap Dam, which lies on the Colorado River just west of the river’s confluence with the Fraser River. In the project, the existing dam’s length will be reduced by about 800 feet, and a new channel will direct water around the reservoir for most weeks of the year. The project will take about three years to build, at a cost of nearly $30 million. Funding will come from many sources, including the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Northern Water, Municipal Subdistrict, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Upper Colorado River Association, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and a number of corporate sponsors. The channel was identified as a recommended improvement during the process of receiving a 1041 Permit from Grand County during consideration of the Windy Gap Firming Project. On the East Slope, the project includes the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Berthoud.

Click the link to read the article on the Sky-Hi Daily News website (Meg Soyars). Here’s an excerpt:

The Connectivity Channel Project will move the reservoir’s existing southern embankment 300 yards, reducing the reservoir’s surface area by about 30%, allowing for a new channel and floodplain. This will reconnect the river upstream of the dam and downstream at the confluence of the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. Construction will be completed in the fall of 2024.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, individuals spearheading the project spoke to a crowd gathered beside the reservoir’s soon-to-be-realized channel. The speakers represented an unprecedented collaboration between diverse groups across Colorado, including: Grand County government, state entities, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River District and many more. Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict leads the project. Brad Wind, Northern Water’s General Manger, told the crowd the project will improve “all the ecology that make high mountain streams important to the environment and to Colorado.”


Reconnecting the Colorado will allow for the free passage of fish and sediment, plus create around 50 acres of floodplain and riparian habitat, restoring stream health. The channel will provide over 1 additional mile of public fishing access for the Gold Medal trout fishery, an important benefit for Grand’s recreation industry. Lastly, the project will support additional restoration efforts, such as improving irrigation and aquatic habitat near Kremmling…

An essential facet of the Connectivity Project is its relation to the Windy Gap Firming Project. Shortly after Windy Gap’s construction, Northern Water realized this was an inefficient means for them to draw water from the Colorado River. Their rights are for 30,000 acre-feet annually. But during wet years, Lake Granby was too full to take this water for delivery to the Front Range, so it sat in Windy Gap. Other years, especially during recent drought, Lake Granby was too low for Northern to pump the water they needed. On top of this, the Front Range population was increasing. Northern Water began creating a better storage option…Northern began construction on the Chimney Hollow Reservoir west of Loveland to ensure the reliability of, or make “firm,” its deliveries of Windy Gap water, even during drought. Instead of being stored in Lake Granby, water from Windy Gap will travel through Lake Granby, then over the Continental Divide, to be stored at Chimney Hollow instead. 

A draft plan for the Colorado River Connectivity Channel, also known as the Windy Gap Bypass, is now available. Public comment will be accepted starting February 8, 2022 through March 10. NRCS/Courtesy photo

Feds: #ColoradoRiver’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir able only to deliver two more emergency #water releases — @WaterEdCO #GreenRiver #COriver #aridification

View below Flaming Gorge Dam from the Green River, eastern Utah. Photo credit: USGS

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

Utah’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which Colorado River officials have used twice during the past two years to add water to the rapidly deteriorating river system, likely only has enough water left for two more emergency releases, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Last summer, Reclamation ordered the release of 125,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge to help keep Lake Powell from falling too low to produce power. Then, earlier this summer, Reclamation announced that it would release another 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge and hold back 480,000 acre-feet in Powell instead of releasing it to Lake Mead, as it would normally do.

Another 30,000 acre-feet was released from Colorado’s Blue Mesa Reservoir last summer, which along with Flaming Gorge, New Mexico’s Navajo, and Powell itself, was supposed to act as a critical savings account for the river system.

The Colorado River Basin, which is divided into two regions, includes seven states: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming make up the Upper Basin, while Arizona, California and Nevada comprise the Lower Basin. Lake Powell serves as the largest water bank for the Upper Basin, while Lake Mead holds water for the Lower Basin states.

Colorado River Basin. Credit: Chas Chamberlin/Water Education Colorado

But as drought and climate change continue to sap the Colorado River, even the water in the Upper Basin’s high elevation storage ponds, namely Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo, isn’t enough to protect the larger system, and those kinds of releases can’t go on indefinitely, said Jim Prairie, a hydrologic engineer with Reclamation.

“We could release from Flaming Gorge maybe two more times,” Prairie said at a conference convened by the Colorado Water Congress last week.

And Blue Mesa and Navajo, now at less than 50% of capacity themselves, are considered too low to provide much, if any, additional relief.

It is analyses like these that prompted Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton in June to order the seven basin states to find ways to come up with 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of water next year, to inject into the reservoirs to keep them full enough to generate hydropower and supply water.

That means determining which water users and states are going to cut back use.

Tensions are rising as the federal government and the states continue to fail in their efforts to develop a concrete plan that will cut water use enough to come up with that 2 million to 4 million acre-feet.

“If we failed at anything in the [drought contingency planning done in 2019] it is that our vision was insufficiently dark,” said Wayne Pullan, director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region.

As the freefall on the river continues, veteran federal hydrologists and engineers at Reclamation are scrambling to come up with new ways to forecast what is going to happen, using, among other tools, a stress test that is based on recent observed inflows, rather than models.

Hydrologists are also using data that excludes measurements from extremely wet years back in the 1980s, and focuses instead on the most recent dry periods.

Reclamation estimates that Powell will receive just 6.2 million acre-feet of water from the mountain snows in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico in 2022, using its new forecasting models. That is far below the 9.6 million acre-foot average, a figure based on a 30-year average that includes extremely wet periods.

Right now, Powell stands at 3,533 feet, just 8 feet above the top of a buffer pool that must be maintained to keep the reservoir’s power turbines operating. Lake Mead is similarly low, with an elevation of 1,043.42.

Reclamation expects the reservoirs’ levels to continue dropping next year as well. “This could be where our hydrologies are going to stay,” Prairie said.

But it isn’t only the one-year outlook that is so troubling, Prairie said. It is the wildly varying temperature scenarios, low soil moisture levels, and shrinking snowpacks that are making it difficult to determine the best methods for keeping the giant river system, and Powell and Mead, from crashing.

Ironically, 2022 is shaping up to be slightly wetter than 2021, when inflow was just 3.5 million acre-feet, well below the 6.2 million acre-feet expected for this year.

Urging water users to move quickly to find ways to deliver and keep more water in the system, Prairie said, “Even if we have a good year next year, it is not going to save us.”

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.

#Colorado landowner’s takings claim against EPA advances after judge denies motion to dismiss — The Ark Valley Voice #AnimasRiver #GoldKingMine

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5, 2015. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

Click the link to read the article on the Ark Valley Voice website (Jan Wondra). Here’s an excerpt:

On Tuesday, August 30, Judge Armando Bonilla of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims issued a decision from the bench in favor of New Civil Liberties Alliance’s (NCLA) client and denying a motion to dismiss in Todd Hennis v. The United States of America.

“Today, the Court of Federal Claims recognized what we have long known. EPA must answer for the bad decisions it has made and the unlawful actions it has taken since 2015, said New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) Litigation Counsel Kara Rollins. “We are pleased that Mr. Hennis’s case is moving ahead, and we look forward to presenting the facts about what the EPA did to him—and took from him.”

Hennis filed a lawsuit against the United States for the physical taking of his property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He took this step after years of waiting for action. On August 5, 2015, EPA destroyed the portal to the Gold King Mine, located in Silverton, Colorado. Upon doing so, the agency released a toxic sludge of over 3,000,000 gallons of acid mine drainage and 880,000 pounds of heavy metals into the Animas River watershed. According to Hennis, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused an environmental catastrophe that preceded and culminated in the invasion, occupation, taking, and confiscation of Hennis’s downstream property. Ever since, he has been trying to recover damages.  This ruling means the U.S. Court of Federal Claims is allowing Mr. Hennis’s lawsuit to go forward to discovery, and ultimately to trial…

[The EPA] eventually mobilized supplies and equipment onto Hennis’s downstream property to address the immediate after-effects of its actions, but it apparently ignored Hennis’s explicit instructions on how to protect the land and the scope of the access that he granted. Instead, the EPA constructed a multimillion-dollar water treatment facility on his land, without permission, compensation, or even following a procedure to appropriate his property for public use. After seven years, Hennis says the U.S. Government has been “squatted on his lands”, and he wants financial compensation. Hennis says he didn’t voluntarily give EPA permission to construct and operate a water treatment facility on his property. It was built without his knowledge or consent, and it later coerced him into allowing access to his lands by threatening him with exorbitant fines (over $59,000 per day) should he exercise his property rights. When Hennis  refused to sign an access document, the EPA preceded to occupy his property by operation of the agency’s own administrative order—and threatening him with fines if he challenges it.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

Innovative land management benefits Valley bird populations — @AlamosaCitizen #RioGrande

Sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article from the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable on the Alamosa Citizen website:

THE waters of the San Luis Valley are a crucial part of life for the people and wildlife that call it home. Particularly tied to these water sources are the multitudes of bird species that reside in the area year-round, seasonally, or even just briefly during migration. As conditions become drier and water scarcer, collaboration and creative solutions on all fronts have grown to make the most of the available water supply. This is particularly relevant for riparian and wetland habitat for bird populations.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plays an important role in this effort by managing a number of riparian and wetland areas, including the Blanca Wetlands, McIntire/Simpson property and the Rio Grande Natural Area (RGNA). The BLM has many ongoing riparian and wetland habitat improvement projects, including riparian exclosures and fencing on the RGNA to protect portions of these delicate riparian habitats for nesting.

Unsurprisingly, water availability is a concern for even healthy habitats, which is why the BLM uses its water rights to irrigate these lands to mimic natural wetting and drying processes and provide habitat when species’ need it the most, whether for nesting or migration or other life cycle needs. In addition to the management of its own lands, collaborations with groups such as the Rio Grande Headwaters Restoration Project and others are improving willow habitat along riverbanks, benefitting bird species such as the endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. Though there are challenges, the future is hopeful. 

Sue Swift-Miller, who has worked as a wildlife biologist in BLM Colorado’s San Luis Valley Field Office for about 20 years, says, “It’s really exciting getting to work with such great partners and to be providing habitat for these species.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), like the BLM, works both independently and with partners to protect and enhance habitat for the benefit of birds. Collaboration with other entities in the Valley has been foundational to CPW’s efforts thus far, most notably with Ducks Unlimited and Wetland Dynamics. 

These two private organizations help CPW acquire funding for projects, research bird populations, and manage water use in riparian and wetland areas. CPW also works with farmers and ranchers on and near riparian and wetland areas, helping educate and inform them about practices that are beneficial to their production as well as wildlife. While this effort has presented a certain level of difficulty, the results work to benefit everyone involved.

Tony Aloia, wildlife technician with CPW, says, “Seeing [private landowners] sometimes progress away from what has always been to what is obviously a better way is pretty rewarding … to hear your message being heard.” 

Rotational grazing, preventing overgrazing, and other such practices have helped these landowners get more production value from their land, while simultaneously contributing to wildlife and species preservation through increased suitable habitat and less disturbed nesting periods. 

Sometimes these collaborations and projects can be challenging as well, but CPW’s staff enjoy the work they do and see the benefits it offers. 

Tyler Cerny, who works as a district wildlife manager for CPW, says, “My favorite part of [the job] is seeing the collaboration and people in the community … come together for one common goal, and that is wildlife.” 

Aloia added that one of his favorite aspects of this work is “seeing the wildlife, and seeing your work actually have some impact.”

While changes in climate and water supply challenges will continue to be pressing issues, the management of riparian and wetland habitat in the Rio Grande Basin is adapting to meet them through collaboration and innovation.

This article was brought to you by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable. The roundtable meets the second Tuesday of the month. If we are in-person, we are meeting at the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, 8805 Independence Way, Alamosa, CO 81101. Due to Covid restrictions we are also offering a Zoom option. We welcome your attendance but encourage checking the Roundtable website at www.RGBRT.org prior to the meeting to see if an in-person option is available.

More RGBRT Stories >>

Northern Water Board Member Wins State’s Highest #Water Honor

Northern Water Director Jennifer Gimbel appears with her family upon receiving the Aspinall Award from Colorado Water Congress on August 25, 2022.

Click the link to read the release on the Northern Water website:

Northern Water Director Jennifer Gimbel was presented as the 2022 winner of the Aspinall Award by Colorado Water Congress during its summer convention Aug. 25, 2022, in Steamboat Springs. 

Gimbel received the state’s top water advocacy award based on her many accomplishments during a career with service to the Colorado Water Center, Northern Water, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Department of Interior and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. 

The Aspinall Award is named after former Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who advocated for the state’s water resources during a 24-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Previous award-winners associated with Northern Water include former general managers Eric Wilkinson (2011), Larry Simpson (2001) and Bob Barkley (1995), Municipal Subdistrict Board President W.D. Farr (1985), legal counsel John M. Sayre (1989) and legislative consultant Fred Anderson (1994). 

Aspinall Unit operations update (September 1, 2022): Bumping down to 1350 cfs #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from the Aspinall Unit will be decreased from 1450 cfs to 1350 cfs on Thursday, September 1st. Releases are being decreased as rainfall has helped put river flows well above the baseflow target on the lower Gunnison River. The actual April-July runoff volume for Blue Mesa Reservoir came in at 68% of average. 

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently over the baseflow target of 890 cfs. River flows are expected to continue at or above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future. 

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 890 cfs for September. 

Currently, Gunnison Tunnel diversions are 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 440 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be near 340 cfs.  Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review. 

Crystal Dam, part of the Colorado River Storage Project, Aspinall Unit. Credit Reclamation.

Navajo Dam operations update (September 1, 2022): Bumping up to 650 cfs #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

From email from Reclamation (Susan Novak Behery):

In response to a warmer drier weather pattern and decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 650 cfs for tomorrow, September 1st , at 4:00 AM. 

Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).  The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area.  The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.  

The San Juan River, below Navajo Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism