#Snowpack news: New record January snowpack in most basins

Westwide basin-filled SNOTEL map January 14, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide basin-filled SNOTEL map January 14, 2017 via the NRCS.

From KUNC (Jackie Fortier):

“To have our snowpack where it is right now for the state is a really good position to be in going forward for water supplies into the spring and summer,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor and hydrologist…

According to Domonkos, a strong snowpack is great news for farmers and water utilities, though it could change in the next few months.

“At this point we are about 50 percent done with our snow accumulation season. We could dry out to some degree, and we may not be quite as high for snowpack when the peak snowpack comes around in late April early May,” he said.

Colorado could see a record snowpack this spring — a situation Domonkos said was unimaginable in just November — but it could come with a price.

“As with any year that you have high snowpack, it all depends on how it melts,” he said.

“If it melts gradually that’s more what you want to see. Soils become saturated and then you can have a nice steady runoff and that provides a steady water supply through the summer.”

But under the right conditions, flooding could pose a problem later in the year for parts of the state.

“If we have a very high snowpack late into spring and then off a sudden temperatures warm up really quick and we have potential rain on snow events, then we can worry about very high [stream and river] flows,” Domonkos said.

At this point in the season, reservoirs across Colorado are at average levels. If they fill up too early, in the season more water will be sent downstream.

From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Jacey Marmaduke):

Colorado snowpack just saw its fastest turnaround in more than 30 years.

That’s a big deal for Fort Collins, which mainly relies on snowpack for its water supply and has been in a severe drought since August.

The story sounds like something out of a heartwarming underdog movie: By Nov. 17, 2016, Colorado’s water year was off to the worst start in more than three decades as a stubborn high-pressure ridge remained camped out over the Front Range. Snowpack in the South Platte River Basin, which supplies much of Fort Collins’ water, was about half of the average amount.

Just as hope waned, the high-pressure ridge began to break down, allowing the jet stream to meander into Colorado’s mountains and fill them to and in some place over the brim with snow. Several snowstorms have dropped 5 to 8 feet of snow since mid-November. And it’s been good, wet snow, too, which is even better for spring runoff.

South Platte Basin snowpack sat at 158 percent of normal Thursday morning. Statewide, we’re at 155 percent. The statewide rate of snowpack accumulation between Nov. 17 to Jan. 1 was the fastest Colorado has seen in 32 years, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service…

Heavy snowpack is great for spring water supply, agriculture and winter recreation. But [Treste Huse] can’t help but worry just a little about enhanced flood risk. If inordinately high snowpack persists, rivers like the Poudre and the Big Thompson are in for major runoff come spring.

That’s not coming anytime soon, though, so conditions can — and likely will — change. Huse said NWS predicts a decent chance of normal or above-normal precipitation during the next few months.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” she said of Colorado’s snowpack. “You never know what’s gonna happen next.”

@DailySentinelGJ: Tipton glad to return to natural resources

George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South
George Washington addresses the Continental Congress via Son of the South

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton is hoping to play a bigger legislative role on natural-resource issues facing Colorado and the West as a result of a committee appointment announced Friday.

Tipton, R-Colo., learned he will serve on the House Committee on Natural Resources for the next two years, returning to a panel he was a part of from 2011 to 2014…

“I’m honored and excited to be back on the Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over many of the issues that impact the Third District of Colorado on a daily basis,” he said in a news release. “While I’ve continued to push for policies that protect water and private property rights, and support responsible energy development and public land management as Vice Chair of the Western Caucus, I’m pleased to have more of a direct role in the legislative process surrounding issues like these and many others.”


While previously on the Natural Resources Committee, Tipton introduced the Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act, which Congress passed and President Obama signed into law.

He long has fought what he says are the federal government’s attempts to circumvent state water law, seeking passage of his Water Rights Protection Act. Repeatedly passing the House, that measure has yet to be taken up by the Senate.

Other natural-resource legislative initiatives Tipton has been pushing have included a bill he says would foster healthy forest management and help the state of Colorado protect communities from wildfires on national forests.

He also has advocated what he calls an all-of-the-above approach to energy development, involving both traditional and renewable energy sources.

#AnimasRiver: @EPA cites “sovereign immunity” — $1.2 billion in claims set aside

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]
This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Farmington Daily Times (Magdalena Wegrzyn , Leigh Black Irvin , Joshua Kellogg and Noel Lyn Smith):

Federal lawmakers, tribal leaders and state and local officials presented a rare unified front today as they vehemently denounced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement that it will not pay more than $1.2 billion in claims filed against it in response to the Gold King Mine spill.

The EPA said the Federal Tort Claims Act prevents the agency from paying claims that result from “discretionary” government actions. Congress passed the law to allow government agencies — and in this case, contractors working on their behalf — to act “without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action,” according to a press release from the EPA.

Three federal lawmakers representing New Mexico denounced the news in a joint statement, calling the agency’s reasoning a “shameful legal interpretation of liability.” Meanwhile, Navajo Nation officials questioned who would take responsibility for reimbursing tribal members hurt by the spill, which on Aug. 5, 2015, released more than three million gallons of toxic wastewater into a tributary that feeds the Animas River, which flows into the San Juan River, ultimately emptying into Lake Powell.

The EPA said the work contractors conducted at the mine near Silverton, Colo., is considered a “discretionary function” under the law.

Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrats, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., issued a statement saying they would continue pushing for legislation to hold the EPA accountable. They also said it would be up to the courts to determine whether the EPA’s defense is legitimate.

Heinrich said in a phone interview that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure the EPA pays claims that have already been filed, as well as future claims.

“I’m going to speak to all of the senators from Colorado and Arizona, and we’re going to introduce legislation to do this right,” he said.

An EPA agency official said paying the claims would discourage cleanup efforts — such as the one being conducted at the Gold King Mine when it was breached — in the future…

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye said the tribe will continue pursuing its lawsuit against the EPA and several other entities. He said the tribe plans to work with president-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration to address claims tied to the spill.

“It doesn’t stop here,” Begaye said shortly after attending an inauguration ceremony in Shiprock for recently elected Northern Agency chapter officials. “This is one step, and we will continue taking the next step and if we have to, we’ll take it all the way to the Supreme Court.”


An EPA official said 73 claims related to the mine spill were filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Four were from governmental agencies and the rest were from individuals and companies…

Joe Ben Jr. served as the Shiprock Chapter’s farm board member when the spill occurred. Ben, a farmer himself, said he did not file a claim but knows several other farmers who submitted claims for lost crops and revenue…

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)
The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

… collecting compensation doesn’t weigh heavily on [Earl] Yazzie. Instead, the farmer said he’s more concerned about whether to plant crops this spring and if he’ll irrigate with water from the San Juan River…

Included in the $1.2 billion is about $154 million in tort claims that are part of a lawsuit filed by the state of New Mexico, according to the EPA official. She said the EPA’s defense will be used in court to deny payment of those claims…

The EPA official acknowledged the announcement was slow in coming, adding “we spent a lot of time trying to see if there was any other way to address this because this is obviously an answer that leaves a lot of people unhappy who have been hurt.”

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The EPA said the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.

But attorneys for the EPA and the Justice Department concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

“The agency worked hard to find a way in which it could pay individuals for damages due to the incident, but unfortunately, our hands are tied,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said.

The EPA said it has spent more than $31.3 million on the spill, including remediation work, water testing and payments to state, local and tribal agencies.

Ebbing Away: Latest land “subsidence” monitoring report finds lower ground levels and fissures in some regions of Arizona

Arizona Water News


The problem of land subsidence in Arizona – the lowering in elevation of land-surface levels, largely the result of groundwater extraction – is a decidedly mixed bag, the Arizona Department of Water Resources is discovering.

Thanks to decreased groundwater pumping in the Phoenix and Tucson Active Management Areas, for example, subsidence rates in many areas of those AMAs have decreased between 25 and 90 percent compared to rates in the 1990s.

That is just one of the major findings of the department’s recent “Land Subsidence Monitoring Report No. 3,” released earlier this month.

And it’s the news from the happy side of the bag.

On the opposite side, land subsidence statewide is proving to be an increasingly serious challenge that is causing problems for infrastructure in some areas. And it is proving to be a headache even in certain parts of active-management areas.

Monitoring for subsidence


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@dnvrite: CU Boulder researchers are the latest Coloradans to try modifying the weather

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From Denverite (Andrew Kenney):

A team at CU Boulder is partnering with researchers in Illinois and Indiana to pull snow from the skies — and they’ll only be the latest from Colorado to experiment with the weather. Read on for the details of the new project and the backstory of this state’s ongoing weather modification program.

The research project, launched this month, will put planes over southwest Idaho to seed silver iodide into the clouds, potentially causing snow and ice to form when it wouldn’t otherwise.

This thing has a great name, by the way: SNOWIE, or Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds — the Idaho Experiment. If it works, it would increase the amount of springtime water runoff to streams and rivers, providing more power from hydroelectric dams.

The idea is to build up “the scientific foundation for weather modification,” said assistant professor Katja Friedrich, who’s in charge of the CU part of the program, in a news release.

Among other contributions, two Boulder students will be operating a Doppler radar system on a mountain to track the effects of the experiment. The team also will be operating various gauges and instruments to keep track of the project, joining colleagues from the University of Wyoming and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.

The data, in turn, will be the basis for scientific research by students at CU and elsewhere, and a few lucky undergrads will even get the chance to spend a week at the site.

As of Jan. 10, the experiment had flown three times in four days.

But this isn’t new for Colorado:

The state of Colorado itself has been experimenting with the technology since the 1970s. There’s an entire weather modification program to explore the concept at a cost of about $1 million per year, paid for in part by water providers and ski resorts. Unlike the new research program in Idaho, Colorado uses ground-based “generators” that burn silver iodide up into the air when conditions are just right.

Vail and Beaver Creek have the longest-running effort, which tries to get the resorts open earlier and for a longer season. There are seven active programs in Colorado, according to the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The state claims these programs have showed promise. One research report estimated that 8 percent of the snowpack at Winter Park in one recent season may have been “gained from cloud seeding.”

(The state also has permitted “hail cannons,” which use the power of sound to try to disrupt hail clouds in Weld County and the San Luis Valley.)

Still, it’s quite hard to reliably measure the impact of these programs. Nolan Daesken, the state climatologist, believes they have some effect but that claims about them sometimes are overblown, according to the Colorado Independent.

Silver iodide can only draw out significant snowfall when temperatures are below 17 degrees, “with sufficient moisture in the air and favorable winds,” as Hannah Holm, coordinator for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, wrote for Vail Daily.

Her conclusion: Cloud-seeding deserves respect as a new water supply strategy, but it’s a relative drop in the bucket.

The January 2017 “Headwaters Pulse” is hot off the presses from @CFWEWater


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

Across the country, drinking water crises are making the news—from toxic algae to lead poisoning to a growing number of communities facing contamination from a class of manmade chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds or PFCs—raising concerns about whether the nation’s current drinking water regulations do enough to protect us.

While there are clear rules pertaining to 93 federally regulated drinking water contaminants, there are no national drinking water standards for algal cyanotoxins, PFCs, or a host of other potentially harmful unregulated contaminants of emerging concern.

Read this article and more in the recently-released issue of Headwaters magazine, where we explore the connection between public health and water, the regulations in place to keep us safe, and the question of whether those go far enough.