World Meteorological Day, March 23, 2018: Weather-ready, climate-smart

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

The ever-growing global population faces a wide range of hazards such as tropical cyclone storm surges, heavy rains, heatwaves, droughts and many more. Long-term climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and climate events and causing sea level rise and ocean acidification. Urbanization and the spread of megacities means that more of us are exposed and vulnerable. Now more than ever, we need to be weather-ready, climate-smart and water-wise.

This is why one of the top priorities of WMO and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) is to protect lives, livelihoods and property from the risks related to weather, climate and water events. Thereby, WMO and its Members support the global agenda on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

WMO and National Meteorological Services design operational services ranging from daily weather forecasts to long-term climate predictions that help society to be weather-ready and climate-smart. Further National Hydrological Services are essential for the sound management of fresh water resources for agriculture, industry, energy and human consumption, so that we can be water-wise. These services empower us to manage the risks and seize opportunities related to weather, climate and water.

Early warning systems and other disaster risk reduction measures are vital for boosting the resilience of our communities. Climate services can inform decisions on both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Hydrological monitoring increases our understanding of the water cycle and so supports water management.

Farmington: San Juan Water Commission meeting recap

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

San Juan Water Commission members have expressed concerns about recreation on one of the region’s larger reservoirs. Lake Nighthorse near Durango, Colorado, was built as part of the Animas-La Plata Project to store water for various entities in the region.

“The purpose of the reservoir is for us, not for recreation,” said Cy Cooper, who represents the city of Farmington on the commission.

The city of Durango, which recently annexed the reservoir, has said the lake will be open to recreational activities, including paddleboarding and kayaking, on April 1. The lake is scheduled to open to motorized watercraft on May 15, though city officials are still working on a plan for regulating that.

Russ Howard, the general manager for the Animas-La Plata Operation, Maintenance and Replacement Association, assured members of the San Juan Water Commission on Wednesday that recreation will not be prioritized ahead of water quality.

“The primary purpose for this project is a drinking water supply, and recreation comes secondary,” Russ Howard said. “We are not going to let recreation interfere with the main, primary purpose of this project.”

As of Monday, Lake Nighthorse was 97 percent full with nearly 112,000 acre-feet of water in it. The reservoir is expected to be 100 percent full by the end of June following 49 days of pumping water from the Animas River.

If local water users, such as the city of Farmington or the city of Aztec, need more drinking water, they can ask for water from Lake Nighthorse to be released into the Animas River. San Juan County water users could request water from Lake Nighthorse if drought conditions put a strain on water resources.

“People just need to realize that the lake is a dead pool if we destroy the viability of the water,” said Jim Dunlap, who represents rural San Juan County water users on the San Juan Water Commission.

Howard said the baseline data is in place so changes in water quality can be detected. He said monitoring will be in place for bacteria like E. Coli and for petroleum byproducts. If either of those are detected, recreation activities could be stopped or reduced.

An oil and gas separator has been installed at the boat ramp parking lot, Howard said. He said any oil or gas that leaks onto the asphalt will run into the separator.

“Regardless of how many rules and regulations you put in place, you’re still going to have the idiots that will have to be dealt with,” Howard said. “The city (of Durango) has assured us and the public that they will manage the idiot factor, but it’s going to be a full-time job.”

Members of the commission also received packets on Wednesday that included graphs and updates about water resources, including snowpack and stream flow data. The data was from organizations including the U.S. Geological Service and the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

According to the U.S. Geological Service stream flow data, the Animas River’s flow in February was 47 and 63 percent of average, depending on the location of the gauge. The flow was below the 2002 levels, a year that turned out to be one of the driest on record. The Durango Herald reported this week that the Animas River in Colorado had reached record-low levels for this time of year.

As of Tuesday, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center was reporting snowpack that was 53 percent of the median snowpack from 1981 until 2010 in the Animas Basin and 58 percent of median in the San Juan Basin.

Drought conditions in the Four Corners region have worsened since the beginning of the year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The monitor also shows that drought conditions in the Four Corners region are worse now than they were at the beginning of March 2002.

#Drought news: Fix-a-leak week March 19-25, 2018

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

In the Colorado mountains, climate change is causing rising temperatures, shorter winters and lower snowpacks, leading to growing prospects of a statewide drought this summer. Water waste compounds the problem, as the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that household leaks alone waste 1 trillion gallons of water nationwide every year. As part of the effort to promote water conservation, the EPA and High Country Conservation Center are asking homeowners to hunt for household leaks during the 10th annual Fix a Leak Week.

While the Blue River Basin is relatively robust this season, the news isn’t good across the rest of the state. According to a February report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, 71 percent of the state is in some level of drought classification. Statewide precipitation from snowfall is at 70 percent of average, and long-term forecasts indicate the state will see a warmer, drier spring than normal.

“This could be the new normal,” said Colorado River District spokesman Jim Pokrandt. “Colorado’s in our 17th year of sustained, below-average snowpack, and a lot of skiers have already noticed it as there aren’t as many powder days. This year certainly illustrates the fact that drought is in our face.”


While humans cannot directly control the climate (yet), there are easily manageable ways to save water in our homes. The EPA says that individual households may waste up to 10,000 gallons a year because of leaks. Plugging those leaks is a simple, but effective, way to save a lot of water and money…

In its 10th year, Fix a Leak Week runs from March 19-25. The aim of the campaign is to get homeowners to think of ways they can promote water conservation at home, either by mending leaks or replacing old fixtures…

Pokrandt suggested other ways homeowners may save water, including installing low-flow faucets and showerheads as well as inspecting landscape irrigation systems for leaks. Better yet, he said, is to use landscaping that is more appropriate for the local environment.

“A lot of us moved from the East, where they get 40 or so inches of rain, and that makes them think they should have fence-to-fence bluegrass carpeting out here, too,” he said. “You should have regionally appropriate landscaping, and not try not to make your place look like it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

For more information about Fix a Leak Week and ways to conserve water at home, visit the EPA’s website at

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Ty Betts):

“We’re in a drought and we’ve been in a drought for 18 years,” [Luke] Runyon said. “It’s not getting better, and there is more and more reason to think that this is the new normal.”

2018 in particular is shaping up to be an extremely low year for snowpack, Runyon said, which means less water will be available to the seven U.S. states and Mexico who all pull from the Colorado River. Runyon said 2002 was the driest year ever recorded for the Colorado River basin, and this year is only slightly above those levels.

Research from the Natural Resource Conservation Service shows that Colorado is only at 66 percent of average snowpack for 2018.

“People say we could maybe make (snowfall) up in months like April and May but at this point, it would take some pretty crazy snowstorms to make up that deficit,” Runyon said.

Trial over Powderhorn Ski area winter water right for snowmaking starts today

Trail map for Powderhorn Ski Area via liftopia

From (Erin McIntyre):

Andrea Clark, Tom Kirkpatrick and Dana Black allege that Powderhorn bought a 1-cubic-foot-per-second winter water right that didn’t totally belong to the person who sold it to the resort. They also allege that removing more water from Mesa Creek in the winter will harm the other water users and worsen problems with the creek icing over, and that the ski resort can’t put the water it purchased to beneficial use at this time and bought the water rights on speculation.

The plaintiffs claim that Powderhorn should not be able to change the use of water it purchased from the Mesa Creek Ditch, which was formerly used during the winter for domestic and livestock purposes. The resort purchased the water from former Mesa Creek Ditch Association board president George Bevan.

According to court documents, Powderhorn intends to divert a maximum of 150 acre-feet of water during the winter, transport it to the H.U. Robbins Reservoir and store it there until it uses the water for making snow. The reservoir has a decreed capacity of a little more than 100 acre-feet of water and is located more than a mile from Mesa Creek, its source, according to state water records.

However, the plaintiffs allege that Powderhorn’s intent to use the water isn’t good enough — that the state’s requirement for water rights to be put to beneficial use should be applied here. In other words, they claim Powderhorn’s purchase of the water with no infrastructure for transporting it to its reservoir was speculative, which is not a legal use under Colorado law for those water rights. They also claim the resort’s reservoir needs significant repairs and has not been used for nearly 40 years, and that the resort hasn’t proved it can or will be able to transport or store the water.

Powderhorn’s attorneys claim the resort already proved the change in the water rights wouldn’t hurt any of the other water users and that Bevan owned and used the water he sold the resort for decades.

They also plan on calling Andy Daly, co-owner of Powderhorn, to testify that the water rights are necessary to have a reliable water source for snowmaking. This comes during a winter in which the resort didn’t open until the week before Christmas, snowpack levels are dismal and Powderhorn limited its operating days for weeks to keep its runs open with snow made by the resort.

Daly also plans on telling the court that Powderhorn will find one way or another to transport the water the 1.19 miles from Mesa Creek to its reservoir, though it does not have a way to do so currently, according to court documents.

“As for landowner access, Powderhorn can purchase, lease, or condemn the rights of way necessary to convey the subject water right to the ski mountain and H.U. Robbins Reservoir,” said the brief filed by the ski resort’s attorney, Glenn Porzak.

Other parties in the case include the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest domestic water provider in the Grand Valley. Ute Water became involved in the matter before the ski resort purchased the water in 2016, according to an agreement between the two entities that was signed by Ute’s board president at the time.

In the agreement, Ute Water agreed to not oppose Powderhorn’s application asking the state for permission to change the water right’s specified use to snowmaking. In exchange, Powderhorn offered shares of stock in the Mesa Creek Reservoir and Canal Co. and also said it would ask the state to let Ute Water have water that it bypassed and didn’t divert for snowmaking.

The plaintiffs are represented by Clark’s husband, attorney Jim French, who is handling the case pro-bono, and Isaiah Quigley, a Grand Junction attorney.

The case is set for a three-day trial in front of Chief Judge James Boyd in [

Paonia Reservoir dramatic example of widespread water infrastructure needs — Hannah Holm

Paonia Reservoir

From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

In the fall of 2017, workers navigated sloppy mudflats in the bottom of the drained Paonia Reservoir in an urgent effort to prevent catastrophe: a damaged bulkhead threatened to break apart and damage the Paonia Dam’s outlet works, which would have made it impossible to control releases from the reservoir. This would have made the reservoir useless for delivering irrigation water and for flood control.

A temporary fix for the bulkhead problem was completed within budget and ahead of schedule, but reservoir managers still face longer-term challenges with managing sediment and keeping the reservoir functioning to sustain North Fork Valley agriculture over the long term. Related challenges are shared by many other water managers in western Colorado as they try to maintain aging infrastructure and respond to changing social values related to water management.

The completion of the Paonia Dam in 1962 enabled the continued growth of agriculture in the North Fork Valley. A beneficial micro-climate makes the valley well-suited for high-value fruit orchards — as long as there is sufficient water. Prior to the construction of the dam, many crops failed due to demand outstripping the supply of irrigation water in late summer. The dam currently provides water to irrigate approximately 15,300 acres of land.

When the dam was constructed, on the aptly-named Muddy Creek, it had a 50-year “sediment design life.” The designers expected the reservoir to fill with mud and become inoperable before now. Current constraints on what to do next weren’t anticipated, however. We are no longer in an era where new reservoirs can easily be constructed to replace old ones. Even fixing up old ones is complicated by legal constraints that didn’t exist in 1962, such as the need to ensure that the work does not have significant negative impacts on environmental, recreational or cultural resources.

The question of what to do next, within current constraints, can’t be avoided much longer. The mud has come close to overwhelming the intake structure that controls releases to the stream below the dam and has reduced the reservoir’s active storage capacity from 18,150 acre-feet to about 15,000 acre-feet.

The total volume of mud is staggering: the creek has been depositing an average of over 100 acre-feet/year of sediment to the reservoir since its construction in 1962. That’s about one football field buried 100 feet deep accumulating every year — a lot more than a whole convoy of dump trucks could haul off and sell as topsoil.

Intake structure during construction in 1961. Photo Credit Reclamation.

In recent years, the dam has been operated to pass a higher amount of sediment downstream, but the net inflow is still higher than the outflow. Finding a way to turn that around will require design changes to the dam outlet works and operations and careful assessment of potential impacts downstream of different release scenarios.

While streams below dams have often been described as “sediment starved,” with long-term, negative impacts to channel structure and aquatic habitat, too much sediment at once or at the wrong time can negatively impact the bugs at the bottom of the food chain and ruin fish spawning habitat.

These are tricky challenges, which Bureau of Reclamation staff are wrestling with now. And whatever fix is found is unlikely to be cheap. Doing nothing is not really an option, however, either for the agricultural life of the North Fork Valley or, in the long term, for the environmental health of the stream.

The same can be said for many of our aging dams, diversion structures and canals across western Colorado. Some of these are decades older than Paonia Dam. Examples include ailing dams on the Grand Mesa, leaking ditches, and inadequate control structures.

Numerous projects to address these problems are included in the basin implementation plans developed by basin roundtables of water managers and stakeholders in 2015 as part of a statewide water planning process. However, funding to implement such projects in the future has come into question as state severance taxes on oil and gas development, which have long provided funding for water projects in Colorado, have diminished substantially.

As this year’s dry winter underscores how tenuous our water supplies can be, it is worth the effort to carefully assess all the water infrastructure we rely on and determine how we can maintain it and improve it to optimize the benefits from every inch of snowpack we get.

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 on water issues is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at

The latest newsletter from the @COHighLineCanal is hot off the presses

High Line Canal Regional Context map via the High Line Canal Conservancy

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

Framework Planning Open Houses

The High Line Canal Conservancy has launched the second phase of significant planning for the High Line Canal, a beloved 71-mile regional trail. This multi-jurisdictional planning initiative follows on the heels of the Community Vision Plan completed in early 2017. This planning phase will focus on a Framework Plan – a multi-year implementation plan to ensure that the Canal reaches its greatest potential as an environmental, recreational, social, historic and economic asset. It will include complete plans for signage and wayfinding, as well as landscape guidelines for all 71 miles.

The first phase of public open houses for the Framework Plan is in April. The open houses will include an existing conditions analysis, preliminary signage designs, and an opportunity for input on potential enhancement projects and project priorities. Continued support and engagement from the citizens of the region is vital to ensure the future of the Canal is reflective of the public vision. Come share your thoughts in April!

Tuesday April 10th, 4:30-7:30 pm
Goodson Recreation Center – 6315 S. University Boulevard

Thursday April 26th, 4:30-7:30 pm
Aurora Central Library – 14949 E. Alameda Parkway

For more information, please visit

Platte to Park Hill Project Phase 1 update

Storm drain and open channel improvements between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and the South Platte River (Globeville Landing Outfall), Stormwater detention/conveyance between the East Rail Line (38th & Blake Station) and Colorado Blvd, (Montclair Basin)
Stormwater detention/ conveyance immediately east of Colorado Blvd. (Park Hill Basin).

From (Cory Reppenhagen):

Denver Public Works refers to that problem area as the Montclair basin. It is the largest basin in Denver at 9.5 square miles, that does not have a path for stormwater to get to the South Platte River.

So they say that stormwater tends to pool in that area, and some of the worst flooding in the city steams from this spot. The solution, according to Denver Public Works, is to build the largest flood protection project that Denver has ever seen.

The Platte to Park Hill Project, or P2P, is extremely progressive in its use of open channels, water quality features, and inclusion of community and recreational assets.

A 9NEWS crew toured the nearly completed first phase of this plan, called the Globeville Landing Outfall Project, which Denver Public Works describes as a giant storm drain.

The centerpiece of this project is a massive pipe that’s actually a 500-yard-long, 12 foot by 15 foot – a concrete box culvert…

This project will protect those historic neighborhoods around the Denver Coliseum, like Elyria, Swansea, Cole, Whittier, Clayton, Skyland, and Five Points.

Denver Public Works said it will not only handle the routine stormwater, that often floods those areas, but also the big 100-year events.

“It’s those storms that are above an inch in an hour. Two inches, three inches in an hour, those are the ones we don’t have a system for, those are the ones that this system is really going to do a good job for us,” said Uhernik.

A thunderstorm that covers all 155 square miles of Denver, with just 1 inch of rain, puts down 2.7 billion gallons of water, which is enough to fill about 67 million bathtubs…

In this new project, the water will flow out of that culvert and into the open, where it will run through a new park and into the South Platte River, just along the west end of the Denver Coliseum parking lot.

It’s a natural path restored.

Denver Public Works says this drain will be ready to take on stormwater by this summer. The new city park will be completed in the spring of 2019.

They plan to build similar drains downstream in the years to come.