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Climate: USGS says most California streams flowing at less than 10 percent of normal

Widespread western drought continues

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Much of the West has been very dry during the first four months of the 2014 water year.

By Summit Voice

As California experiences its worst drought in more than a century, it’s probably not surprising that some stream gages in the northern part of the state are showing all-time record low readings, with 2013 in the record books as the driest calendar year in the state’s 119-year recorded history.

Low streamflow affects water availability for agricultural, municipal, and industrial uses, water quality, water temperature, recreational opportunities, and the maintenance of fish populations.

Recent precipitation has resulted in some increases in streamflow, snowpack, and reservoir levels, but severe drought conditions remain. Without significant additional precipitation, prior conditions will quickly return leaving most streams in the state at less than 10 percent of normal for this time of year. Continue reading

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More quagga mussels found in Lake Powell; Is the Lower Colorado River ecosystem at risk?

Quagga mussels coating a flip-flop in Lake Mead. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

Quagga mussels coating a flip-flop in Lake Mead. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

National Park Service seeking input on mussel management plan

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The battle to keep Lake Powell free of non-native mussels is tilting toward the aquatic invaders and federal resource managers are concerned the invaders may spread into Glen Canyon.

As of January, the National Park Service reported finding — and removing — about 1,300 hundred adult quagga mussels, and managers at the reservoir said they’re finding more as the season progresses.

In response, the park service is developing a quagga-zebra mussel management plan to help the the agency decide what tools are appropriate to support the ongoing management of invasive mussels in Glen Canyon now that quagga mussels are present in Lake Powell. Continue reading

Climate: 4th-driest year on record at Lake Powell

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Lake Powell: Going, going … gone?

High flow experiment planned for early November to restore aquatic and riparian Colorado River ecosystems downstream of Glen Canyon Dam

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even with some bonus inflow in September, the past water year Oct 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013) ended up as the fourth-driest on record for the Colorado River Basin as measured at Lake Powell — the key reservoir on the river that helps balance supply and demand between the upper and lower basins.

Overall water storage in the Colorado River Basin in the last 14 years has ranged from a high of 94 percent of capacity in 2000 to the present low of 50 percent at the start of the 2014 water year.

Continue reading

Is the Colorado River tapped out?

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A NASA satellite image of the Colorado River and Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona.

Federal water agency says it will cut deliveries from Lake Powell next year

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Colorado River water supplies are already stretched dangerously thin, and the faucet is about to get turned down, as federal water managers said they will probably have to curtail downstream deliveries from Lake Powell in 2014.

July inflow into Lake Powell was just 13 percent of average, following a spring runoff season during whic the river delivered only about a third of the average amount of water. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most-viewed stories

Wildfire, weather, climate and the environment …

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Summit Voice had readers all over the world the past 30 days, including page views originating in Greenland and Mongolia.

FRISCO — Coverage of the West Fork Fire Complex, which has grown to become the second-largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history, was the most-viewed story last week, but a water story focusing in Lake Powell and published just yesterday, quickly raced up the charts, followed by a story on the environmental impacts of using dispersants on oil spills.

Click on the headlines to read the stories and pass them along on your own favorite social media netwoks by using the share buttons at the end of each story.

Water: Study identifies major ‘leakage’ from Lake Powell

Advocacy group says research shows that maintaining Lake Mead at a higher level could save water, help restore Colorado River ecosystems

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The water level in Lake Mead has been on a downward trend in recent years.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The porous sandstone along the shore of Lake Powell may soak up as much as 380,000 acre-feet of water each year — more than Nevada’s entire annual allocation of Colorado River water, according to a new study by hydrologist Thomas Myers.

The research, published in the Journal of the America Water Resources Association, supports the idea of reconfiguring the way water is stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead with the overall goal of using the Colorado River in the most efficient way possible, according to Glen Canyon Institute director Christi Wedig.

“At a time of impending water shortages, it is imperative to maximize efficiency the Colorado River storage system,”  Wedig said. “Dr. Myers’ study has confirmed that Lake Powell is a major source of water loss, and a potential source of major savings. Continue reading

Summit Voice: Most-viewed stories

Climate, wildfires and biodiversity

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Evening alpenlow over the Rocky Mountains.

Compiled by Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —  It’s always good to hear scientists speak the truth, and last week, Australian researchers minced no words as they described the findings of a global warming attribution study that showed a statistically significant link between industrial Co2 pollution and the brutal and and extended heatwave that gripped the island continent. Our report on the study was the most-viewed story of the week, even though it was posted late in the week.

Global warming: Study finds greenhouse gas fingerprints all over Australia’s record-breaking summer heatwave( 2,090 views).

Here in Colorado, we also had near-record dryness last year and to consecutive years of well-below average snowfall across large parts of the entire Colorado River Basin, with record-setting heat in spring. With inflow into Lake Powell looking dismal, it’s time to start wondering how much water will be available in the Colorado in coming years: Climate: How will the Colorado River flow?  (1,076 views). Continue reading

Water: Does the Colorado River compact need tweaking?

‘Demand-cap’ concept could avert a compact call

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative. Continue reading

Climate: Another grim year for Lake Powell

“Slight improvement in the Colorado basin water supply is like expecting a road-killed jackrabbit to feed a whole pack of hungry coyotes. It’s not nearly enough to go around. ~USDA hydrologist Randall Julander

The last decade has been rough for a key reservoir in the intricate water storage system that sustains much of the American Southwest. Lake Powell, a meandering network of flooded canyons in southern Utah, has seen inflow rates from its key tributaries dwindle due to severe drought. Inflow between 2000 and 2012 has been the lowest 13-year period on record since the lake was created in 1963. A welcome surge of water arrived in 2011, but 2012 was a near-record dry year. And 2013 isn’t looking much better. Meteorologists expect another dry year, and hydrologists are forecasting that the combined inflow of 2012 and 2013 will be the second lowest on record (trailing only 2001-2002). In early May 2013, the lake was 47 percent full. That is not a record low—the reservoir dipped to 33 percent of capacity in 2005—but U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecasters expect Lake Powell to drop to 42 percent of capacity by September, the end of the water year.

A recent NASA satellite image shows low water levels in Lake Powell in Spring 2013. Click here to visit the NASA page. The last decade has been rough for a key reservoir in the intricate water storage system that sustains much of the American Southwest. Lake Powell, a meandering network of flooded canyons in southern Utah, has seen inflow rates from its key tributaries dwindle due to severe drought. Inflow between 2000 and 2012 has been the lowest 13-year period on record since the lake was created in 1963. A welcome surge of water arrived in 2011, but 2012 was a near-record dry year. And 2013 isn’t looking much better. Meteorologists expect another dry year, and hydrologists are forecasting that the combined inflow of 2012 and 2013 will be the second lowest on record (trailing only 2001-2002). In early May 2013, the lake was 47 percent full. That is not a record low—the reservoir dipped to 33 percent of capacity in 2005—but U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forecasters expect Lake Powell to drop to 42 percent of capacity by September, the end of the water year.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — With May inflow into Lake Powell less than half the long-term average, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that total reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin will dip to about 29.3 million acre feet. That’s just 49 percent of storage capacity and the lowest level since the peak of the early 2000s drought, when the 2005 water year started with storage at 29.8 million acre feet (50 percent of capacity). More Lake Powell water info here: http://lakepowell.water-data.com/.

May’s inflow into Lake Powell was  1,121 thousand acre-feet, about 48 percent of average — a stark reminder that winter and spring precipitation was well below average in large parts of the Colorado River Basin, despite a surge of late-season moisture in the headwaters region of north-central Colorado. But at least the May inflow was an improvement from April, when inflow was only about a third of average.

After releasing about 602,000 acre-feet downstream, Lake Powell’s elevation at the end of May was at about 3,599 feet, which is about 100 feet below full. According to BuRec, the reservoir elevation is expected to remain within several feet of the current elevation throughout spring and summer as inflow from runoff roughly matches reservoir releases. In late summer, the reservoir elevation will begin to decline again.

For the April to July runoff season, water managers are now projecint that total inflow will be about 3 million acre feet, which is about 42 percent of the average inflow for the 1981 to 2010 period, with the overall water supply outlook remaining significantly below average. Lake Powell will probably end the current water year at just 44 percent of capacity.

The past decade has seen significant variability in precipitation totals, with near record runoff in 2011, followed by two of the driest years on record.

National Park Service plans ‘mussel blitz’ at Lake Powell

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A USGS map shows the spread of invasive mussels in the U.S.

Divers to scour main marinas in search of invasive species

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After finding 14 adult quagga mussels attached to moored vessels and dock structures at the Wahweap Marina in Lake Powell, the National Park Service is planning a four -day “mussel blitz” to try and remove any more of the invasive aquatic pests.

Starting June 10, 25 to 30 divers will be in the water at Wahweap and Antelope Point Marinas to assess the extent of quagga mussels. Divers and staff from the National Park Service (NPS), Aramark, Antelope Point Marinas, and other local, state, and federal agencies will inspect moored boats, docks, cables, and the buoy field in the marina areas during the intensive 4-day effort. The location, size, and quantity of the mussels removed will be recorded to help scientists determine the origin and scope of the problem. Continue reading

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