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RISK STUDY RESULTS
Phase III of the Colorado River Risk Study spearheaded by Colorado’s Colorado River District and Southwestern Water Conservation District has yielded some modeling results on the risks of Lake Powell dropping to critical levels, as well as how various curtailment scenarios could impact Colorado River uses from different sub-basins in Colorado. The final report won’t be out until the end of the summer, but a slide show was presented at the Four West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting on June 20 in Grand Junction, and it is posted here.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Langford):
Despite plentiful snowfall this winter and a rainy spring on the Western Slope, local water experts took a cautious tone at the 2019 State of the River meeting Tuesday night.
Snowpacks and inflow at reservoirs across the state are well above average, but that isn’t necessarily an indicator for the future, said Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
There have been multiple examples of precipitation swinging from very dry to very wet and back again the next year, Knight said…
Hannah Holm, coordinator for the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, said while a wet year can give water users a break, it doesn’t change trends.
“The long-term trend is that it’s drier,” Holm said. “The overall precipitation trend is flat, but because of increased temperatures over that same time frame, the amount of water in the river is going down.”
Water users like towns and cities, farmers and the recreation industry are still collaborating on a solution for the problem of less water to go around, Holm said.
From the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University:
The Mesa County State of the Rivers meeting will provide you with an update on this year’s snowpack, expected river flows and reservoir operations, as well as drought planning and information on an innovative project to help endangered fish in the Grand Valley.
A free chili dinner will be served at 6:00; the program will begin at 6:30.
Date And Time
Tue, May 14, 2019
6:00 PM – 8:00 PM MDT
Add to Calendar
CMU University Center Ballroom
1451 North 12th Street
Grand Junction, CO 81501
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WATER COURSE MATERIALS POSTED
Presentation slides and some streaming links for the Hutchins Water Center’s recent 3-evening Water Course are now posted here. Topics included CO Water Law, Impacts of Drought & Aridification, and Drought Contingency Planning, and we had a stellar slate of speakers.
From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:
Last year was a bad water year in Colorado and the Colorado River Basin. A record-low snowpack on the Grand Mesa and the rest of our high country was followed by low streamflows, stressed fish, and thin hay harvests. The Grand Valley was spared the worst, thanks to senior water rights and upstream reservoir storage, but the city of Grand Junction got nervous enough to impose outdoor watering restrictions for the first time. In the Colorado River Basin, the combined storage in all Colorado River Basin reservoirs dropped to 47 percent of capacity last year. Runoff into Lake Powell was only 43 percent of average.
In 2018, we also heard scientists saying that we weren’t just experiencing a drought, but a long-term process of aridification. With drought, you can expect that better days lie ahead. With aridification, not so much.
Water leaders in the states that share the Colorado River seemed to be coming to terms with its limits, as draft “drought contingency plan” (DCP) documents were circulated. The draft DCP sets out a plan for water delivery cuts in the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada and the authorization for a special pool in Lake Powell to save voluntarily conserved water from the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico. This pool would help keep lake levels high enough to generate hydropower and ensure that the upper basin states stay in compliance with downstream delivery obligations.
Approval of the plan got hung up in Arizona, however, which faces the twin challenges of having to take the only immediate, severe cuts under the plan and the need to get approval from its state legislature. This led the Commissioner of Reclamation to issue a stern warning that if all the Colorado River Basin states don’t approve the DCP by Jan. 31, she will initiate federal action to make the delivery cuts necessary to keep reservoir levels from crashing. So, 2018 wasn’t exactly a banner year for water decision-making, any more than it was for snow.
How is 2019 looking? Hydrologically much better, although not quite better enough to rid the region of drought. Locally, we have a normal amount of snow on the Grand Mesa. The mainstem Colorado River Basin in Colorado, on which most Grand Valley agriculture depends, is even a hair above average for this time of year. The Gunnison Basin is at about 96 percent. The southwestern Colorado river basins have about three times the water in their snowpack that they did at this time last year, but it’s still only 78 percent of average. Long-range forecasts show continued drought, and spring runoff into Lake Powell is forecast to be just 66 percent of average. There’s a lot of dry soil out there to soak up snowmelt before it can reach rivers and streams.
In terms of water decision-making, it’s way too early to make any judgments on how 2019 will stack up. We don’t yet know if stemming overuse in the lower basin will be done collaboratively or only through top-down federal action.
Closer to home, our decent snowpack is giving us time to carefully and deliberately make the kinds of water decisions that can help our communities stay ahead of crisis. Promising work is underway on many fronts.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board will be working to develop a voluntary, compensated “demand management” program to cut water use and protect water levels in Lake Powell.
The board will be seeking input, and it will be up to us to provide it in order to make sure any such program doesn’t hurt more than it helps. Stakeholder groups are working to better understand their water supply vulnerabilities through integrated water planning projects, in hopes of identifying ways to improve resilience. Ditch companies and individual farmers continue to move forward with efficiency projects to make the best use of every drop, and many residential property owners are replacing lawns with native plants.
Whether these efforts will add up to enough to keep us out of trouble with our downstream obligations and keep our communities vibrant remains to be seen. It will depend in part on our luck with the snow, and in part on how much energy and careful thought we put into the kinds of efforts described above.
Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.
Holiday storms that dumped snow across the state have built the snowpack in the northern mountains of New Mexico to normal or near-normal levels. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on Friday reported that snowpack in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which feeds the Rio Grande, was 106 percent of its median level over a period of 30 years and snowpack in the Jemez River Basin was 97 percent of normal.
However, according to Royce Fontenot, senior hydrologist with the Albuquerque office of the National Weather Service, more snow is needed in the Four Corners area and in the large headwater basins in southern Colorado…
Snowpack in the Rio Chama Basin near the Colorado state line was 71 percent of normal, and the Animas River Basin was about 85 percent.
The San Juan River Basin in Colorado and New Mexico has about 73 percent of its median snowpack. The Upper Rio Grande Basin was also at 73 percent of normal.
Snowpack in New Mexico and southern Colorado feeds New Mexico’s reservoirs, rivers and streams during spring runoff and provides water for irrigation and recreation. It’s measured in snow-water equivalent, which reflects the amount of water contained in the snowpack at a location if the entire snowpack were to melt.
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DROUGHT PLAN SEEMS CLOSER
A Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan to keep water levels in Lakes Mead and Powell from crashing has inched towards completion, as state agencies and key interest groups have endorsed the draft plan over the past month. Endorsing organizations include Nevada water agencies (as reported by the Las-Vegas Review Journal), the Colorado Water Conservation Board and the Colorado River District (despite some reservations, as reported by Aspen Journalism and the Grand Junction Sentinel). Arizona, typically seen as the lone potential hold-out among the states that share the river, has recently made major steps towards an agreement, according to the Arizona Republic. Earlier, the Desert Sun reported that a conflict in a California irrigation district could still complicate adoption of the agreement.
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The head of the Upper Colorado River Commission on Tuesday told a Grand Junction audience that proposed new interstate agreements contain important provisions aimed at helping fend off the short-term threats that drought poses to the region.
Amy Haas, the commission’s executive director, says the centerpiece of the new deals from the perspective of Upper Colorado River Basin states is a provision providing for storage in Lake Powell and other Upper Basin reservoirs for water that might be conserved through any demand management program in the Upper Basin.
“There’s no point in implementing and administering a program in the Upper Basin without that storage capacity,” Haas said at the forum.
The event was hosted by the Grand Valley Water Users Association and hosted at Colorado Mesa University by CMU’s Hutchins Water Center. It focused on drought contingency planning, demand management and the potential implications for Western Slope agriculture.
Importantly, Haas said, the newly reached agreements spell out that water conserved through a demand management program could be used only for purposes of complying with a 1922 river compact between upper and lower basin states. It wouldn’t be subject to releases from Powell under the language of an interim agreement reached in 2007 that seeks to balance water levels between Powell and Lake Mead downstream.
Haas said it took heavy negotiations to obtain that assurance…
The recently released draft agreements, which officials say will require federal enabling legislation, include a drought contingency plan for Upper Basin states and another for Lower Basin states. A key aspect of the Upper Basin plan entails possible implementation of a demand management program if agreement can be reached between Upper Basin states.
The Colorado River District, a 15-county Western Slope entity, has been concerned that addressing the storage element now might pave the way for demand management before proper discussion has taken place on what parameters such a program should have. The district fears that demand management could end up primarily targeting West Slope agriculture. It wants any program to be limited to voluntary, temporary and compensated measures, with the impacts borne equally across varying regions of the state and water users.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board has directed its staff to develop a draft policy guiding development of any demand management program in the state.
“It will be voluntary, compensated and temporary,” CWCB board member Steve Anderson, also general manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, said at Tuesday’s forum…
Haas said a key consideration will be how to pay for a compensated program. An Upper Basin pilot demand management program conserved some 22,000 acre-feet of water at a cost of about $4.5 million through 2017, according to a report released earlier this year…
Haas called that “an expensive endeavor.” She said a demand management program would need to conserve 200,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water to make a difference, and questions surround how to fund that.