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Groundwater depletion threatens sustainability of Colorado River

Satellite data suggests more than 75 percent of water loss in drought-stricken basin is from groundwater pumping

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A new study quantifies groundwater depletion in the Colorado River Basin. Map courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Groundwater pumping is a huge factor in the Colorado River Basin water equation, California-based researchers said this week, announcing the results of satellite study that for the first time quantifies how groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states.

Along with surface diversions and pipelines, water users in the basin are also unsustainably depleting underground aquifers. For example, mountain resort towns in  Colorado tap underground water from headwaters streams like Tenmile Creek and the Blue River for municipal use.

The new study found that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought, the researchers concluded. Continue reading

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Colorado: Water plan briefing in Vail today

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Water, water everywhere – for now. @bberwyn photo.

Colorado business community weighs in on water principles

Staff Report

FRISCO — Vail and Eagle County residents will have a chance to get up to speed on an emerging state water plan today (July 10), with a lunchtime briefing at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

Speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.

Colorado: Forest Service comment letter shows breadth and depth of impacts from Denver Water’s diversion plan

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More water from the West Slope? Not the best idea, says the U.S. Forest Service. bberwyn photo.

Current plan underestimates impacts to water and wildlife

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — As currently spelled out, Denver Water’s plan to divert more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River will result in unacceptable impacts to wildlife and other resources on publicly owned national forest lands, the U.S. Forest Service wrote in a June 9 comment letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Forest Service also wrote that the creation of a pool of environmental water in an expanded Gross Reservoir doesn’t compensate for the loss of two acres of wetlands and 1.5 miles of stream habitat that will be lost as a result of the expansion. Continue reading

Op-ed: Ski industry bullies USFS on water rights

Proposed new water rule in the works for western ski areas

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Oh, oh, the water … bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After being bullied by the ski industry in court and legislative arenas, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to shift its approach to administering valuable water rights associated with ski area operations in western states.

Instead of requiring resorts to transfer water rights, the Forest Service now proposes adding language to ski area permits that would ensure that enough water remains linked to ensure future operations. The water rights could not be sold separately from other resort assets like chairlifts and lodges.

That would address the main concern the Forest Service voiced when it first proposed changes to the administration of water rights a few years ago, but doesn’t address the bigger issue of resorts trying to establish total control over public resources. Continue reading

Colorado: Not much love for proposed new water diversions

EPA raises questions about compliance with Clean Water Act

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system will be up for comment at a pair of upcoming meetings.

Denver Water plans to increase transmountain diversions through the Moffat collection system is not drawing rave reviews, as numerous entities have expressed significant concerns about impacts to water quality. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For all the detailed information in the 16,000-page study for Denver Water’s proposed new water diversions from the Western Slope, there are still more questions than answers, according to formal comment letters filed in the past few weeks.

As currently configured, the proposal to shunt more water from Colorado River headwaters streams to the Front Range could worsen water water quality in many streams that are already feeling the pain of low flows, EPA water experts wrote in a June 9 letter. Continue reading

Environment: Northeast lakes rebound from acid rain

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

It’s simple: Cleaning the air improves water quality

Staff Report

FRISCO — Acid rain, once the scourge of freshwater ecosystems in the eastern U.S., is waning, and the health of New England lakes and streams is improving, scientists said this week after documenting declines in sulfate concentrations in snow and rain.

The data gathered by scientists working under the auspices of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, show that sulfate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 40 percent in the 2000s. Sulfate concentration in lakes declined at a greater rate from 2002 to 2010 than during the 1980s or 1990s. During the 2000s, nitrate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 50 percent and nitrate concentration declined in lakes. Continue reading

Colorado: Statewide snowpack way above average

South Platte Basin snowpack at 315 percent of average

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Big snowpack lingers in Colorado Rockies. bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Rivers in northern Colorado will continue to flow at high levels for several more weeks, water watchers said last week, releasing the results of the June 1 snowpack survey. While runoff season is well under way, the remaining snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is still 223 percent of median and 80 percent higher than last year’s snowpack on June 1.

The most snow lingers in the South Platte Basin, where the snowpack is at 311 percet of median. All basins north of the Gunnison are well above average, but the state’s southern basins have nearly melted out, continuing a run of drought conditions and heightening concerns about this summer’s fire season. The Rio Grande Basin and the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins are at 59 and 39 percent of median, respectively. Continue reading

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