Upper #ColoradoRiver #snowpack raises hopes of avoiding Mead shortage declaration #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 21, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 21, 2017 via the NRCS.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Federal forecasters now expect the reservoir to avoid its first federal shortage declaration next year, thanks to the boost it should get from what could wind up as the wettest winter on the river’s basin in 20 years.

“We’re in for a good year, no doubt about it,” said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salt Lake City.

Storms in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming over the past month have added more than 3 million acre-feet to the water supply forecast for the Colorado. That’s a 10-year supply for Nevada, which gets 300,000 acre-feet from the river each year and uses it to supply the Las Vegas Valley with 90 percent of its drinking water.

SHORTAGE DECLARATION UNLIKELY

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center calls for the surface of Lake Mead to start 2018 about 3 feet above the trigger line for a shortage declaration that would force Nevada and Arizona to reduce their river use.

Projections in January called for slightly below average flows on the Colorado through this summer, resulting in an 11-foot drop that would take the lake below the shortage line.

Forecasters now expect 9.6 million acre-feet of snowmelt — 134 percent of the average for the past 30 years — to make its way into the river between April and July.

One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two typical valley homes for just over a year. The Colorado River provides water to some 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.

Some monitoring stations on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains show roughly twice as much snow as usual for this time of year, and Julander said it is very wet and “ripe” to begin melting into the river system.

“We’ve seen a dramatic and substantial increase in snowpack and soil moisture,” he said. “January and February were absolutely outstanding. It feels good to say that.”

Heavy snow and rain in California also could take some pressure off the overburdened Colorado. The Golden State draws more water from the river than anyone and might be able curb its use and store more of its supply in Lake Mead now that its own reservoirs are filling again following heavy rains in the lowlands and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

As of Feb. 21, Colorado’s snowpack was sitting at 140 percent of what is considered normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

That amount has dropped some, though, as only a week earlier, the statewide snowpack was at 147 percent of normal.

Still, this bodes well for Fort Morgan in terms of having plenty of water this summer and fall. It also looks good for Northern Water, which provides that water to the city through the Colorado-Big Thompson pipeline.

“Late spring and early summer snowmelt and runoff from the Rocky Mountains provides most of Colorado’s water supply,” Northern Water’s website explains. “Greater snowpack means favorable water supplies; lower amounts can signal an impending drought.”

The two major river basins that play roles in the water supply for the C-BT pipeline are the Upper Colorado and South Platte, and they had snowpacks of 147 and 142 percent, respectively, in mid-February. Those percentage fell to 140 and 132 as of Feb. 21…

But even with the dips over the last week, the numbers were still well above normal. That could continue to be the case, according to Northern Water.

“The most probable streamflow forecasts are also well above average,” the water district stated.

Further, the C-BT pipeline’s water storage level was “above average” at the start of February, tracking at 121 percent of normal as of Feb. 1.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Intermountain West month to date precipitation through February 15, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Intermountain West month to date precipitation through February 15, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

#Snowpack news: McPhee Reservoir boating release likely this season

Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.
Ponderosa Gorge, Dolores River. Photo credit RiverSearch.com.

From The Cortez Journal (Jacob Klopfenstein):

The livestock association held its annual meeting at the Cortez Elks Lodge. Local, state and federal officials also spoke at the event, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton.

[Ken Curtis] said there is about 300,000 acre-feet of water in the snowpack for the McPhee Reservoir basin. However, but the reservoir will only be able to store about 90,000 additional acre-feet, he said.

“We’re going to get a chance to do a lot of active management,” Curtis said.

With water levels looking good, a recreation spill downriver is likely, but it’s still early, he said. Water officials will have to work hard to manage the above-average snowpack levels this season, he said.

Curtis also discussed the issue of mussels in waterways. The invasive quagga and zebra mussels have infiltrated the Great Lakes and are slowly making their way across the West, he said. Colorado has avoided an infestation, but they have appeared as close as Lake Powell, he said.

If mussels get into waterways on the Western Slope, they could cause costly damage to water infrastructure, such as dams and irrigation equipment, Curtis said.

Recreational boat inspections have been taking place on McPhee Reservoir and House Creek, but funding has decreased for inspections in recent years, he said. Hopefully funding will stabilize soon for the inspections, Curtis said, but in the meantime, access may be limited to recreational areas in 2017.

“We need to raise the insurance one level higher,” Curtis said. “We’re going to close lake access when the inspections aren’t happening.”

McPhee should be open seven days a week, but House Creek will probably only be open four days a week, he said.

Montezuma Valley Irrigation Co., which owns Narraguinnep and Groundhog reservoirs, has also considered closing boat access to both those lakes because of the mussel risk.

The U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation and Dolores Water Conservancy District are raising money to continue boat inspections at McPhee and House Creek, he said.

The boat inspection program costs about $95,000 per year, and the Forest Service previously covered that cost, Curtis said.

No mussels have been found on boats during inspections at McPhee, but they have been found as close as Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs, Curtis said.

Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin precip. A-OK so far #COriver

Water Supply Forecast Colorado River Basin February 18, 2017. Credit Colorado River Forecast Center
Water Supply Forecast Colorado River Basin February 18, 2017. Credit Colorado River Forecast Center

From The Los Angeles Times (William Yardley):

…there is one place where the precipitation has been particularly welcome and could be transformative: the Colorado River basin, which provides water to nearly 40 million people across seven states.

“We’re in a really good spot as far as snow accumulations,” said Malcolm Wilson, who leads the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group in the upper Colorado River basin.

Under federal guidelines that kick in when water flows reach certain volumes, the Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees the river basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, could release enough water from the former to raise the elevation of the latter by 20 feet or more — providing a remarkable shot in the arm for a lake that has been declining steadily during a devastating drought that started in 2000.

The process — lowering one reservoir to lift another — is called equalization, and a few weeks ago, it was not even viewed as a viable option. Now, Wilson said, “It’s in the realm of possibility.”

Even if that optimistic scenario does not play out — the region would need several more weeks of strong precipitation without a substantial warmup — there is still reason to savor a moment of relief on the Colorado…

As of last month, the bureau was forecasting about a 50% chance that, for the first time, the river and its reservoirs would not be able to fulfill the water demands of states that rely on it, beginning in 2018.

But this week, the bureau quietly updated that forecast, saying the chance was only about 34%. By the end of this year, it expects Lake Mead to be at least 3 feet above the threshold at which an official “shortage” would be declared.

Not only that, the bureau said the likelihood of a shortage through 2021 is no greater than 33%. Just a few weeks ago, the chances of shortages in that time frame were about 60%.

Pueblo West contracts for 6,000 acre-feet of storage in Lake Pueblo

Pueblo West
Pueblo West

From The Pueblo West View (Kristen M. White):

Pueblo West will have the right to store water in Pueblo Reservoir in the future, should the storage be needed, after the Metropolitan District agreed to enter into a subcontract with the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

The master plan contract is between the Bureau of Reclamation and the water district, and Pueblo West now has a subcontract with water district for its storage rights.

The contract allows Pueblo West to begin paying for 10 acre feet, at the starting rate of $40.04 per acre foot of water, in 2017. But the contract gives Pueblo West the ability to store as much as 6,000 acre feet of water in the future should the storage ability be necessary.

Report: The 21st century #ColoradoRiver hot #drought and implications for the future #COriver

Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism
Photo via Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen journalism

Click here to buy the report. Here’s the abstract:

Between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19% below the 1906-1999 average, the worst 15-year drought on record. At least one-sixth to one-half (average at one-third) of this loss is due to unprecedented temperatures (0.9°C above the 1906-99 average), confirming model-based analysis that continued warming will likely further reduce flows. Whereas it is virtually certain that warming will continue with additional emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, there has been no observed trend towards greater precipitation in the Colorado Basin, nor are climate models in agreement that there should be a trend. Moreover, there is a significant risk of decadal and multidecadal drought in the coming century, indicating that any increase in mean precipitation will likely be offset during periods of prolonged drought. Recently published estimates of Colorado River flow sensitivity to temperature combined with a large number of recent climate model-based temperature projections indicate that continued business-as-usual warming will drive temperature-induced declines in river flow, conservatively -20% by mid-century and -35% by end–century, with support for losses exceeding -30% at mid-century and -55% at end-century. Precipitation increases may moderate these declines somewhat, but to date no such increases are evident and there is no model agreement on future precipitation changes. These results, combined with the increasing likelihood of prolonged drought in the river basin, suggest that future climate change impacts on the Colorado River flows will be much more serious than currently assumed, especially if substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions do not occur.

Here’s a report from John Fleck writing for InkStain. Here’s an excerpt:

A warming climate is already reducing the flow in the Colorado River, and the future risk is large, with a worst case of the river’s flow being cut in half by the end of the century, according to a new study from a pair of the region’s leading researchers. While precipitation declines since the turn of the century have been modest, Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck found, a little less rain and snow have translated to a lot less water in the river.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Upper Colorado River Basin January 2017 precipitation as a percent of normal.
Upper Colorado River Basin January 2017 precipitation as a percent of normal.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.