#Snowpack/#runoff news: Wet February Brings Hopeful Water Outlook For #Utah and #Colorado

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

From Steamboat Today (Eleanor C. Hasenbeck):

At 115 percent of the long-term average, the Yampa Valley’s snowpack is currently above the norm, but those concerned about forecasts of water available for recreation, agriculture and other uses this spring and summer are still waiting for more snow to pile on.

“What fills the rivers and the reservoirs and the irrigation ditches is the amount for the year,” said Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District Manager Kevin McBride. His agency manages water in the Stagecoach and Yamcolo Reservoirs. “What we work off is the total snowmelt, so until the snowpack gets up to average for an average year, we’re always worried.”

The Valley will need 62 percent of its average snowfall to hit its typical peak. Snowpack usually peaks at about 21 inches of snow water equivalent, which is a measure of how much water is contained in the snow. Snow water equivalent is measured at several weather stations in the mountains, called Snow Telemetry or Snotel sites.

“When we reach 100 percent of average annual snowpack, then I’ll be comfortable,” said Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports and a board member of Friends of the Yampa. “It is encouraging. The whole town, the atmosphere around our snowpack — it’s so much brighter. Folks are in a good mood when it snows a lot. We’re all busy and working, and all eight cylinders are hitting.”

Snotel sites in South Routt are faring the best, with Lynx Pass and Crosho at 122 percent of average. Columbine is at 117 percent and Rabbit Ears is at 111 percent. On Buffalo Pass, Dry Lake is at 118 percent and Tower is at 116 percent. In North Routt, Zirkel is at 110 percent and Elk River is at 104 percent…

Still, though snowpack at high elevations is looking good, McBride said there is more to consider in planning for the water year. When the snow melts off plays a role in how irrigators have to manage their water. What’s more, if snow at lower elevations melts too early in the season, irrigators have to divert water running off from higher elevations earlier to boost soil moisture that would typically come from snow melt on fields.

“(Snowpack’s) a little above average,” he said. “Things are looking — if they continue this way— they’ll be great.”

From KUER.org (Judy Fahys):

“These storms have been bringing a lot of water — great for the snowpack, for water supply going into the runoff season and for ski conditions,” Glen Merrill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday during a meeting of hydrologists, forecasters and other climate professionals who track precipitation levels…

Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey, pointed out that the snow-water equivalent is higher than average statewide, between 114 and 172 percent.

Brosten also said soil moisture was up, from 42 percent last year to 49 percent this year. Generally speaking, when soil moisture is good, runoff is more efficient.

One area that remains worrisome is reservoirs, reported Gary Henrie of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Provo office.

He said last year at this time reservoirs were 80 percent full on average, but communities and agriculture relied heavily on them through the exceptionally dry summer. Now, he said, the average levels in reservoirs statewide are 64 percent of normal, but water managers hope a good runoff this spring will help restore them.

Statewide snowpack Utah February 17, 2019 via the NRCS.

The Public Utilities Commission claims authority to hear dispute between the La Plata Electric Association and Tri-State Electric #ActOnClimate

Micro-hydroelectric plant

From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

Public Utilities Commission says it has authority to hear dispute

La Plata Electric Association and other electrical co-ops may gain insight about buying out of a contract with their wholesale electrical supplier after the Colorado Public Utilities Commission ruled this week it can oversee a dispute about the buyout fee.

LPEA is exploring a buyout from its contract with Tri-State Generation and Transmission, in part, because the wholesaler caps how much renewable power LPEA can purchase from outside sources at 5 percent as part of a contract that does not expire until 2050. Tri-State is a nonprofit of 43 member electric cooperatives, including LPEA and Delta-Montrose Electric Association.

DMEA is interested in buying out of its contract because Tri-State’s prices have been rising since 2005, and, at the same time, electricity costs in general have fallen, said Virginia Harman, DMEA’s chief operating officer.

DMEA is also interested in developing more local renewable energy than allowed under its contract with Tri-State, she said.

“We are not looking for a free exit; we are looking for fair exit,” she said.

DMEA brought a case to the Public Utilities Commission last year because it felt the fee Tri-State demanded to buy out of its contract is unreasonable.

DMEA is formally asking the PUC to establish an exit fee that is “just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory,” according to a news release.

Becky Mashburn, spokeswoman for DMEA, declined to name the amount Tri-State is asking for the co-op to leave its contract.

Colorado’s PUC ruled Thursday it has the authority to determine whether Tri-State is charging DMEA a just and reasonable price to buy out of its contract, said Terry Bote, spokesman for the Department of Regulatory Agencies. A hearing about the buyout charge will be held in June, he said.

Tri-State had filed a motion to dismiss the case brought by DMEA, arguing the dispute about the exit fee is a contractual dispute.

The PUC rejected Tri-State’s argument, ruling the commission has jurisdiction over the buyout charge dispute because it is a statutory issue, he said.

The Colorado Springs Gazette takes a look at the new @EPA #PFAS rule-making

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday unveiled its long-awaited plan for tackling the toxic chemicals contaminating the Widefield aquifer, immediately coming under fire from environmental groups and some El Paso County residents for not going far enough.

The agency said it would begin the yearslong process of setting a safe drinking water limit for two types of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl compounds by year’s end, while studying the toxicity of other varieties and taking steps to strengthen groundwater cleanup measures across the nation.

Environmental groups across the nation and residents in southern El Paso County criticized the plan for not going far enough to protect them and millions of other Americans whose drinking water sources contain the man-made chemicals.

The plan does nothing to hasten the implementation of a drinking water standard, and it largely ignores all but a couple of types of the chemicals — including those found most commonly in bloodstreams of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents.

Doug Benevento, the EPA’s regional administrator, said the agency is doing all it can to address the toxic chemicals as quickly as legally possible.

“We get it’s frustrating, because people want something done now,” Benevento said.

“And what we are required to do though under the Safe Drinking Water Act is a scientific process — and there’s an economic portion of it too — that we’re required to go through before we make a final determination. And we’re in that process right now.”

The substances, also known as PFAS, are man-made chemicals used for decades in a military firefighting foam, including at Peterson Air Force Base. They also were used in myriad nonstick household products, such as carpet cleaners, Teflon products and fast-food wrappers.

Also called perfluorinated compounds, they have been linked to several health ailments, including cancer, liver disease and high cholesterol.

Specifically, the EPA’s new 72-page plan calls for proposing a “national drinking water regulatory determination” later this year for the two best-known types of perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS.

Such determinations are considered an opening step for regulating the chemicals and setting a maximum contaminant level — similar to what exists for such chemicals as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Still, it could take three to five years before the chemicals are regulated, said Bob Benson, an EPA toxicologist.

San Juan Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

Following an executive session, the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) Board of Directors voted to take action on some water rights issues, as well as a potential contract offering.

The SJWCD board entered one executive session to discuss two separate items. One item dealt with legal advice pertaining to questions involving water rights, district contracts and strategic plan preparation…

Upon returning from extensive executive session and calling the meeting back into public session, Porco noted that no decisions were made in the executive session.

However, Porco then asked for a motion to file a statement of opposition in a water case involving Bootjack Ranch.

That motion was approved unanimously by the SJWCD board. According to Kane in an email to The SUN, in December of 2018, the SJWCD authorized its legal counsel to file a statement of opposition in a water rights case filed by Bootjack Ranch LLC.

According to Kane, Bootjack Ranch is now requesting several new water rights, as well as a plan for augmentation.

This plan involves what Kane referred to as “release water,” which is stored in a pond to replace depletions from its other water rights.

“To have adequate time to evaluate the potential for those water rights and the plan for augmentation and to have standing to protect its water rights from injury, the Board authorized its counsel to file a statement of opposition by the February 28 deadline so that it can be a party to the case,” Kane explained.

“I think it’s needed so that we can protect our water rights,” Pfister said at the meeting.

Also following the executive session, Porco called for a motion to offer a contract to Lewis “and authorize Mr. Pfister to begin ne- gotiations with her.”

That motion was also unanimously approved by the SJWCD board.

Regarding future negotiations with Lewis, Kane explained that SJWCD authorized Pfister to propose a contract that was similar to the original one that had her assisting the SJWCD with its strategic planning.

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Another item that required a motion following the executive session pertained to SJWCD’s legal counsel to withdraw a statement of opposition for the Lovato case.

“I move that we authorize legal counsel to file our withdrawal of our statement of opposition in the Lovato case,” Pfister said.

That motion also carried unanimously.

The Lovato case is a case that was filed in the Rio Grande Basin in 2010, Kane explained in the follow- up email.

“The application originally involved use of a water right for a transbasin diversion from a stream tributary to the San Juan River, known as the Treasure Pass Ditch,” Kane wrote.

Initially, the SJWCD filed a statement of opposition in order to gain standing to protect its water rights from injury, Kane further explained.

“In September, the applicant decided to withdraw the claim involving the Treasure Pass Ditch. With that claim removed, the Board decided that it had no further interest in the case, so it authorized its counsel to file a notice of withdrawal so that SJWCD will no longer be a party to that case,” Kane added.

The notice of withdrawal will be filed sometime this week, Kane noted.

Local involvement and input needed for determining water use — Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership #SanJuanRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From the Upper San JuanWatershed Enhancement Partnership (Mandy Eskelson and Al Pfister) via The Pagosa Sun:

Local stakeholders participated in the first public meeting for the new Upper San Juan Watershed Enhancement Partnership (WEP) in Pagosa Springs on Jan. 10, contributing vital information on how to address concerns and identify opportunities to optimize the region’s water resources in accordance with Colorado water law.

With a focus on creating a community-driven process that incorporates all uses of water — including agricultural, municipal, industrial, recreational and environmental — a panel of steering committee members from diverse sectors explained the group’s goals and engaged discussions on what values and interests could drive these efforts.

WEP Steering Committee representatives include: local ranchers/managers, ditch company leaders, local outdoor recreation businesses, water districts, local and state government agencies, nonprofits, and private citizens. This partnership hopes to collaborate and build upon the accomplishments of existing cooperative groups within the area, such as Growing Water Smart, the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership and Resilient Archuleta.

Funding for this voluntary initiative comes from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Southwestern Water Conservation District as part of the Colorado Water Plan to help communities enhance their water resources through cooperative projects. The meeting fulfilled the dual purpose of introducing the WEP and steering committee to the public and gathering critical input from local water users to provide direction and support for potential projects.

The meeting encouraged the group to discuss issues, opportunities, knowledge gaps, partners to involve, and geographic scope of this initiative to identify common interests and priorities for future steps.

Preliminary meeting results, breakout sessions and surveys revealed an interest to focus on the Upper San Juan, Navajo and Blanco watersheds initially, with the potential to expand efforts into other watersheds in the future. Discussions during the breakout sessions provided critical feedback on local issues of balancing all water uses, drought planning, education and communication needs, and watershed/forest health. Conversations on opportunities focused on creating collaborative, mutually beneficial projects for all water uses in hopes of efficiently using and conserving water resources in preparation for a drier and warmer climate.

Suggestions on what additional information to gather, priority issues and opportunities, and new partners to involve ensure this process aligns with the community’s needs and goals. The WEP will analyze this information over the coming months to further refine cooperative project progress and potential options, like improving irrigation infrastructure or river bank restoration, to discuss with interested stakeholders. Similar projects have been funded and implemented in the past throughout the San Juan River Basin. We are requesting your input and/or involvement in these future efforts.

The WEP Steering Committee strongly encourages all community members to continue submitting input via the online survey. More community input will greatly assist us in implementing projects that benefit all water users, regardless of how you use water resources — be it for rafting, fishing, drinking water, irrigating, or as a water right owner.
With only 31 responses as of Feb. 4, results are showing drought, water quantity, water quality, forest health and soil erosion as the top five concerns, while values aligned with water use rank environmental, agriculture and recreation above municipal/industrial and other uses.

The WEP is seeking an accurate and greater representation of community values and priorities, so please help this process by taking the short (less than five minutes) survey and learn how to be involved in the process at http://www.mountainstudies.org/sanjuan.

If you have additional questions, please call Al at (970) 985-5764.

#Snowpack news:

Statewide basin-filled snowpack map February 17, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

The Upper San Juan site snowpack totals remain unchanged from last week, with minimal snowfall occurring in the past week.

Levels remain stagnant at 83 percent of median, according to data from the Natural Resources Conser- vation Service (NRCS).

“We really want to see this thing get to at least 100 percent,” NRCS Dis- trict Conservationist Jerry Archuleta said, also acknowledging that the San Juan site is not losing ground, but holding steady.

Additionally, each snowpack basin with snowpack levels is at or above 100 percent of median except for one.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins are up to 100 percent of median as of Feb. 13, up from last week’s total of 99 percent of median.

Snowpack totals for the Upper Rio Grande Basin remain the same as last week at 97 percent of median.

The Yampa and White River basins saw their snowpack levels drop a bit, falling to 106 percent of median from last week’s total of 111 percent of median.

The Arkansas River Basin’s totals dropped 10 percentage points from last week to this week, specifically falling from 126 percent of median to 116 percent of median.

More decreases were recorded for the Laramie and North Platte basins, with snowpack totals of 104 percent of median, down from last week’s 106 percent of median.

Current totals at the South Platte River Basin are 108 percent of median, down from last week’s total of 111 percent of median.

The Gunnison River Basin and snowpack levels of 109 percent of median and 112 percent of median, respectively.

Last week, the Gunnison River Basin was 110 percent of median and the Upper Colorado River Basin was 113 percent of median.

The Wolf Creek summit was 100 percent of the Feb. 13 peak and 63 percent of the median peak.

Last week, the summit was 93 percent of peak and 56 percent of the median peak.

Hunters and anglers flex their political muscles — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Cassidy Randall):

On Dec. 2, 2017, onstage in a cavernous auditorium at Boise State University, two of the three Republican hopefuls for Idaho governor, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and businessman Tommy Ahlquist, discussed their views on public lands in front of a crowd of hunters and anglers. The forum, sponsored by the Idaho Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited, and 16 other sportsmen’s groups, was a pivotal one in a state where public lands are a defining issue. The third candidate was conspicuously absent: Rep. Raúl Labrador, whose voting record in the House already proved him a staunch public-lands critic.

In a political climate marked by public-land threats, Labrador’s absence spoke volumes, and he lost the primary to Little by 5 points. “In not coming to a sportsmen’s forum, you allow everyone to fill in the blanks,” said Michael Gibson, Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Gov.-Elect Little was willing to come in front of hunters and anglers and say he supports public lands.” In a state where only 12 percent of voters are registered Democrats, that primary victory all but handed Little the governorship.
Republicans were once instrumental in passing laws like the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. In recent decades, however, the party has developed a reputation as the enemy of public lands, a stance further solidified by the Trump administration’s rapid rollback of protections. But in Idaho and Wyoming, two of the West’s most conservative states, hunters and anglers threw down the gauntlet, demanding state policies that protect access and voting down gubernatorial candidates who threaten public lands. As state legislatures shift in 2019, sportsmen’s groups are positioning themselves to fight the administration’s erosion of public-land protections.

IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY, conservation became a political issue in America, fueled largely by Theodore Roosevelt’s desire to protect rich hunting and fishing grounds. Republicans carried on that legacy until the early 1990s, when the GOP began opposing environmental initiatives. Once President Donald Trump took office in 2016, his administration slashed national monuments and put increasing amounts of public land up for resource extraction. In Congress, Republicans refused to renew the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a popular program that safeguards natural areas.

In the West, the Utah, Montana and Nevada state legislatures have introduced resolutions urging the transfer of federal lands to state ownership. Sportsmen’s groups generally oppose such transfers, as they would likely limit public access. In Wyoming, for example, state lands ban camping, preventing multi-day backcountry hunting and fishing trips. In addition, state land is managed to fund schools, which means potentially cutting off public access in favor of gravel pits, increased logging and land sales.

More than half of Idaho is federal public land, including the Frank Church-River of No Return, the biggest contiguous wilderness in the Lower 48, and 891 miles of wild and scenic rivers, including the Salmon, Owyhee and Snake. But the state has no national parks. That’s partly because Idaho is a sportsmen’s state, and hunting is not allowed in national parks. In 1972, for example, state leaders from both parties ended a decades-long fight over making the Sawtooths a national park by designating the region a national recreation area, thereby protecting its status as popular hunting grounds. In 2016, tensions boiled over when Texas billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks purchased vast chunks of old timber company land that recreationists had long used to access adjacent public lands. Gates appeared on roads, cutting off hunters, anglers and off-road vehicles. As the Wilkses bought increasing tracts, people’s frustrations grew, marked by enraged comments on news articles and letters to the editor. A confrontation at a property line between an armed security guard and a recreationist helped push Idaho lawmakers to update trespassing law, which sowed further unrest. “Critics sought the entire session to pin the bill on Dan and Farris Wilks, the Texas billionaires who have angered hunters, ATV riders, campers and local officials in central Idaho after they closed off 172,000 acres of forest they bought in 2016,” the Idaho Statesman reported.

Voters like Jerry and Terry Myers, who manage a ranch and run guided fishing trips on the Salmon River, made public lands protections a central issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary. “We live here because we love this lifestyle, and we’re always continually working to keep that lifestyle as part of Idaho,” said Terry Myers, who is also president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited. “Even if leadership isn’t coming from the top down, it’s coming from the bottom up, with the idea that those things built locally will build into the political arena.”

Labrador’s lackluster reputation on public lands galvanized the Myerses and other sportsmen. Opinion pieces in local media like Idaho County Free Press, Idaho State Journal, and Idaho Press denounced the congressman as a public-lands-transfer activist, while groups like Idaho Wildlife Federation and League of Conservation Voters highlighted his voting record on public lands. His subsequent refusal to attend the candidate forum at Boise State confirmed voters’ suspicions. Little — the establishment candidate, who was seen as likely to continue outgoing Gov. Butch Otter’s opposition to the land-transfer movement — prevailed.

In Wyoming, public lands proved one of the defining issues in the race for governor. As in Idaho, sportsmen are a powerful force: Thirty percent of the state’s 600,000 residents applied for a hunting permit in the last five years, and 18 percent bought fishing licenses. “If you look at the voting public, which is 50 percent, I’m going to bet every one of those guys who hunt, vote,” said Dwayne Meadows, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife Federation. “And if you look at the fact that roughly two-thirds of the state are registered Republicans, that’s a lot of voting Republicans who are hunters.”

In August 2018, at a candidate forum hosted by the Wildlife Federation in the crowded Republican primary, three candidates, Harriet Hageman, Taylor Haynes and Rex Rammell, expressed support for public-lands transfer, with Hageman going so far as to suggest a one-million-acre pilot program of land transfer to the state.

Hunting groups picked up on the issue immediately. Right to Roam, the most listened-to hunting podcast in the state, made it the focus of an episode on the candidates. The Wyoming Hunters and Anglers Alliance endorsed Mark Gordon — a multiple-use public lands advocate who frequently hunts on Wyoming’s public lands — because of the forum, citing his stance on issues related to hunting, and his opponents’ stances on land transfer (Full disclosure: Both Gordon and Little formerly served on the board of High Country News.) Gordon won the primary with 33 percent of the vote, while Foster Friess, who received Trump’s endorsement but “provided a mix of positive, negative, and neutral stances on sportsmen’s issues,” according to the alliance, got 26 percent. Hageman, who had been polling well before the forum, came in with only 21 percent.

“I think all the public-lands transfer conversation has done is galvanize the sportsmen,” said Meadows. “You can see it in the growth of organizations like mine over the last few years, and it’s powerful.”

Public-land issues also had an impact in other Western states. In the New Mexico race for governor, Republican Rep. Steve Pearce went on the record as supporting the Land and Water Conservation Fund despite previously voting against it in Congress. Pearce lost the race to Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who supported public-land protections and is also an avid fly-fisher. “Our community is a staunch supporter of public lands,” said Kerrie Romero, executive director of the New Mexico Guides and Outfitters Association.

“Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona are all moving more toward the Democrats, and that’s in part because of the GOP being tone-deaf as to why people of all political stripes value public lands,” said David Jenkins, executive director of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. “I’ve always said that if you’re trying to change the political right on environment, you have to show how that aligns with their values — and in the West, people’s affinity for public lands is part of who they are.”

IN 2019, SPORTSMEN’S GROUPS plan to continue the advocacy that helped Little and Gordon win their governorships. In rural states like Idaho and Wyoming, it can be hard to track what the legislature is voting on day to day. Even if citizens have a subscription to a Cheyenne or Casper newspaper, those papers won’t always list individual legislators’ decisions. That is one reason the Wyoming Wildlife Federation is launching bill tracking with real-time alerts to follow specific legislators, so that citizens can let their elected representatives know how to vote. The group is also stepping up recruitment of local ambassadors in rural communities, to help explain how public-lands transfer and the administration’s removal of protections could limit public access. Groups like Trout Unlimited and Artemis, a new sportswomen’s advocacy organization, plan to ramp up trainings that teach people how to testify in hearings, call their elected officials and generally engage in local politics, all tactics intended to remind state politicians of the groundswell of local support that helped put public-land proponents in office.

Sportsmen’s groups are already taking action in the federal arena as well: On the first day of the 116th Congress, House lawmakers reversed a 2017 measure that made it easier to sell off or transfer public lands — a measure that had been widely criticized by hunters and anglers.

“The overarching thing that every sportsman can agree on is public-lands defense,” said Gibson. “Over beers or at meetings, we might argue about regulations or season length. But whether the season is a week or a month, or you keep two fish or four fish, you have to have access to them.”

Cassidy Randall writes about adventure, public lands and conservation from Revelstoke, B.C., and Missoula, Montana. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.