The latest briefing from Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses

Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal November 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal November 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the latest briefing. Here’s an excerpt:

Latest Monthly Briefing – December 8, 2016

  • November was drier than normal for most of the region, with wetter spots in central and southern Wyoming, southern Utah, and eastern ColoradoWestern US Seasonal Precipitation. Statewide, Wyoming was in the 32nd percentile for precipitation, Colorado was in the 39th percentile, while Utah was in the 52nd percentile.
  • November continued what has been an extremely warm fall seasonWestern US Seasonal Precipitation, with most of the region coming in at 4-8°F above normal for the month. Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming each had their 3rd-warmest November on record.
  • Since early November, there has been some additional degradation of drought conditions in eastern Colorado and southern and eastern Wyoming US Drought Monitor. Colorado has D1 or D2 conditions over 38% of the state, compared to 15% in Utah and 14% in Wyoming.
  • The pattern change in mid-November finally opened the door to more storms and a big boost in snowpack conditions. As of December 8, most basins across the region have 55-80% of median SWE Western US Seasonal Precipitation. Central and southern Utah and northeastern Wyoming have near- or above-normal SWE.
  • Weak La Niña conditions are just hanging on in the tropical Pacific ENSO Nino Regions Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies. The ENSO forecast models are now tipped towards a return to ENSO-neutral conditions by late winter ENSO Prediction Plume. NOAA CPC seasonal forecasts show a wet tilt in the odds for Wyoming over the next three months 1-month precip forecast, 0.5-mo lead 3-mo precip forecast, 0.5-mo lead.
  • #California #Drought is a U.S. Problem — AGPRO #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    West Drought Monitor December 6, 2016.
    West Drought Monitor December 6, 2016.

    From AGProfessional.com (Rhonda Brooks):

    Dreams were made and lost in the 1840s by prospectors looking to make it big in the California Gold Rush. Today, people there prospect for a liquid gold that’s even more valuable. It’s water, and the lack of it is slowly strangling agriculture in the state.

    The U.S. Drought Monitor shows the state has suffered from drought conditions for five years. But that’s only part of the story, says Steve Runyan, a farm and rural real estate appraiser based in Bakersfield. The other parts of the story have to do with water use and distribution problems.

    Runyan addressed California’s water woes during the annual meeting of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), earlier this month, in Indian Wells, Calif. He says a big issue is there’s water in the northern half of the state, while a large portion of production agriculture is in the southern half.

    He explains the snow melt from the Sierra Nevada mountain range each spring flows into rivers, streams and reservoirs. A good portion of the runoff also winds up in the Pacific Ocean. Many farmers would like to see more of the water captured and used for crop production. But an aging infrastructure, long-held water rights and political red tape (not to mention push-back from environmentalists with their own agendas) are preventing that.

    For now, many farmers in the Golden State are staying in business by pumping groundwater to keep their fruit, nut and vegetable crops alive. But that can’t continue forever. Without intervention from government agencies, the long-term future for farming looks bleak in California–currently the No. 1 agricultural state in the U.S. and the fifth-largest agricultural producer in the world.

    As goes California. If what’s happening in California doesn’t worry you, it should, says Matt Marschall, senior vice president for CBRE, Inc., a real estate firm in San Diego. He says the state’s water issues are germane to the rest of the country.

    Other individuals and organizations hold similar views. In April 2015 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that “40 out of 50 states have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.”

    Specific to California, Marschall says the cost of production in parts of the state have become so high that he anticipates some vegetable and fruit crops grown there will soon be produced in the Midwest.

    That’s already happening in Michigan, according to Mark Williams, ARA, and president of the real-estate firm Value Midwest, Marlette, Mich. Williams says some of his farmer clients say the soil quality, water supplies and lower costs—relative to California—make Michigan an ideal state to pick up additional acres of fruits and vegetables.

    “We have several areas with muck soils that are a great fit for cucumbers, tomatoes and celery,” he says, for example.

    At first blush, some producers and retailers in the Midwest might expect to simply profit from California’s misfortunes. But Williams’ perspective is that the regulations California is experiencing—not to mention its water woes–are likely to reach the rest of the U.S. as well.

    #AnimasRiver: House OKs bill that would speed claims from #GoldKingMine spill — The Durango Herald

    On April 7,  2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear. Eric Baker
    On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
    Eric Baker

    From The Durango Herald (Alejandro Alvarez):

    The U.S. House of Representatives approved a provision Thursday aimed at speeding up the process for damage claims from last year’s Gold King Mine spill into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.

    The provision would require the Environmental Protection Agency to submit all claims from states, local governments and tribes within 180 days of the bill being enacted. Part of a broader legislative package addressing improvements to the nation’s water infrastructure, it also would authorize federal funding for a water quality monitoring program for bodies of water contaminated by the August 2015 mine spill. The plume of toxic sludge traveled from the mine down the Animas and into the San Juan River, affecting communities in four states.

    The goal of the provision is to establish a quicker procedure for reimbursing claimants on damages resulting from government negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The EPA has admitted responsibility for the accident and has already granted more than a quarter million dollars to state and local officials to cover cleanup costs…

    The water infrastructure act, which also includes emergency funding for the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and drought relief, moves to the Senate for a vote expected before the end of the year.

    Southeastern water district approves $30 million budget — @ChieftainNews

    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District
    Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

    From Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District via The Pueblo Chieftain:

    A $30 million budget was approved Thursday by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District board of directors.

    The budget is the largest in the history of the district because it reflects spending $12 million in the first phase of a hydropower project at Pueblo Dam. The board is scheduled to consider approval of that project at a special meeting later this month.

    “This is an exciting time for the district, with many new opportunities coming to fruition after years of effort by the district board and staff,” said Jim Broderick, executive director. “Every day we are coming closer to fulfilling the vision of those who came before us almost 60 years ago when the district was formed.”

    The hydropower project now includes the district and Colorado Springs. The Pueblo Board of Water Works pulled out as partners last month, because it would realize few benefits from the project. When completed, the $20 million project will generate 7.5 megawatts of electric power and become a source of revenue for the district’s Water Activity Enterprise.

    The budget’s other large-ticket items include repayment of federal funds for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, $7 million, and Fountain Valley Conduit, $5.8 million.

    About $24 million is still owed for construction of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, which began in 1965. The project includes Ruedi Reservoir, a collection system in the Hunter Creek-Fryingpan River watersheds, the 5.4-mile Boustead Tunnel that brings water across the Continental Divide, Turquoise Lake, the Mount Elbert Forebay and Power Plant, Twin Lakes and Pueblo Reservoir.

    The Fry-Ark debt is repaid through a 0.9-mill property tax in the nine-county area covered by the district.

    The Fountain Valley Conduit serves Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security, Stratmoor Hills and Widefield, which pay a special property tax.

    The operating fund of the district will be $2.3 million, and is funded by a 0.03 mill levy and transfers from the Enterprise fund. The Enterprise operating fund will be $1.8 million, and is mostly funded by fees and surcharges on water activities.

    Other than hydropower, the Enterprise will administer excess-capacity storage contracts for district participants for the first time in 2017. The Enterprise also expects the federal feasibility study for the Arkansas Valley Conduit and an interconnection of the north and south outlets on Pueblo Dam to be completed later in 2017. The feasibility study is the final step that must be taken before construction begins.

    @ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal November 2016 via the Colorado Climate Center.
    Upper Colorado River Basin precipitation as a percent of normal November 2016 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.

    Yampa River saw lean autumn flows in 2016 — Steamboat Today

    28-Day low flows in Upper Colorado River Basin. Credit @USGS via @ColoradoClimate.
    28-Day low flows in Upper Colorado River Basin. Credit @USGS via @ColoradoClimate.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    The Routt County Board of Commissioners agreed Dec. 6 to renew its $9,660 commitment in 2017 to the water quality monitoring that has been ongoing in the Upper Yampa River Basin since 2011, with the support of the U.S. Geological Survey and other local agencies…

    Under the testing regimen, six different sites on the river are tested four times annually to establish the baseline for a healthy river.

    In addition, Cowman said the Yampa has been found to have a temperature impairment, and consistent water quality testing over time will help the entities involved in the testing make the case that they’ve been responsive to that condition when the Colorado Water Quality Control Division next focuses on the Yampa.

    Steamboat Today reported Dec. 7, 2015, that some high water temperature readings in the river west of Hayden have the potential to lead to a big shift in how a 57-mile stretch of the river is regulated by the state of Colorado.

    After a summer of sparse moisture in 2016, the Yampa, where it enters Stagecoach Reservoir, was flowing at 22 cubic feet per second on Sept. 23, representing an historic low, based on 27 years of record.

    Managers of the Stagecoach and Catamount dams timed their seasonal draw-down of their reservoirs to benefit the Yampa downstream. And the city of Steamboat and the Colorado Water Trust both arranged to release stored water to boost the river’s flow by 10 cfs well into autumn.

    The cost of the water testing in 2017 is up about 2 percent, with the USGS contributing $14,631, or 30 percent, of the total cost of $48,443. Joining the county in contributing 20 percent of the total are the city of Steamboat Springs and the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District.

    The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District and Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District are each contributing $2,415, or 5 percent, of the total.

    Breckenridge puts new water plant on hold after getting $50 million estimate — Summit Daily News

    This beautiful pattern emerges in clouds when two different layers of air in the atmosphere are moving at different speeds.  Where the two layers meet, another 'sheer' layer is created that becomes unstable due to the changes in speed. Pictured are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds recently seen over Colorado Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3301225/What-caused-strange-clouds-form-Colorado-Scientists-explain-weather-pattern-creates-ocean-sky.html#ixzz3qSbT51xB  Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook
    This beautiful pattern emerges in clouds when two different layers of air in the atmosphere are moving at different speeds. Where the two layers meet, another ‘sheer’ layer is created that becomes unstable due to the changes in speed. Pictured are Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds recently seen over Colorado
    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3301225/What-caused-strange-clouds-form-Colorado-Scientists-explain-weather-pattern-creates-ocean-sky.html#ixzz3qSbT51xB
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    From The Summit Daily News (Kallyn Lamb):

    During the budget retreat meeting on Oct. 25, the [Breckenridge Town Council] decided to postpone construction on what would be Breck’s second water plant, in favor of getting more information. Bids originally came in for the plant at around $30 million, but increased to $52 million for the official 2017 budget.

    “Everybody was fairly shocked at the bid,” said the town’s mayor, Eric Mamula.

    Breck’s town manager, Rick Holman, said that cost of construction has been going up continually year after year, which contributed to the increased cost for the project. Until the town gets the new breakdown in mid-January, Holman said the town is in “wait-and-see mode.” He added that it’s difficult to wait on construction projects because predicting costs can be a roll of the dice.

    “When you’re spending that kind of money I think that a second opinion is a smart thing for the government to have,” Holman said.

    While the water plant is something the town needs to continue providing for ever-increasing local population and tourist demand, Holman said that the town must find a balance between need and cost.

    Mamula said that the council is at a standstill, since they can’t make any decisions on how to move forward until they’ve seen the new plan…

    Should the town council decide to move forward with the plant after seeing the new plan in January, Holman said that the 2017 budget would have to be amended. The town is looking at ways to fund the plant, but Holman added that there could be a rise in water rates if the town decided to go ahead with construction.

    The Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant, the town’s current water source, does not have the space for expansion, Holman said. The town will still invest in repairing the 50-year-old plant.

    Kim Dykstra, the director of communications for the town, said that the age of plant makes it more likely that it could break down.

    The Gary Roberts plant was originally constructed in 1971 and receives its water from snow melt from above the Goose Pasture Tarn Reservoir that flows into the Blue River. After expansions in the late ’80s, the plant had the capacity to run 5 million gallons of water daily.

    Dykstra said that the idea for a second water plant was first floated after the Hayman Fire in 2002…

    A water task force was created in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the town did an official feasibility study to try to find the best way to address water use. Dykstra said that the town already possesses the water rights that would enable it to build a second plant because of progressive town council decisions that started as early as the 1950s.

    The Gary Roberts plant services around 13,000 single-family-home equivalents in Breckenridge. The new plant would add availability for another 2,000, Dykstra said. While permanent residents are the biggest users of water in the town, she said that tourists make up for a big portion of usage as well. An increasing amount of tourists coming to the town, whether it’s for a day trip or longer, means more demand for water.

    Dykstra stressed that part of the reason to add the plant now is to get ahead of water demand.

    The feasibility study, released in early 2014, recommended that the second plant operate at 3 million gallons a day to meet the projected demand, with the water intake coming from the Blue River near Lake Dillon.

    Breckenridge looked at five different properties for construction of the plant and ultimately decided on the McCain property located north of the town along Highway 9. Since it was land the town already owned, and it was close to an established pipeline, it meant fewer initial costs for taxpayers according to Dykstra.