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Environment: Federal scientists say they’ve found a way to detect invasive mussels in their larval stage

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Zebra (left) and quagga mussels are spreading in lakes and reservoirs, with the potential for huge impacts to aquatic ecosystems, hydropower facilities and water delivery systems.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal scientists said they’ve developed ways to detect invasive quagga and zebra mussels while they’re still in the larval stage. That could help resource managers beef up protective measures before the mussels establish themselves in reservoirs and lakes.

“Early detection of mussel larvae does not mean that the water body will necessarily become infested,” said Curt Brown, director of research and development for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. “Early detection provides a warning for managers that a water body is being exposed to mussels through some pathway, so they can consider additional means to prevent further introduction.” Continue reading

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Colorado River District seminar to focus on dwindling snowpack, state water plan and Lake Powell woes

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North American spring-season snow cover extent has declined steadily in recent decades, according to measurements from the Rutgers Global Snow Lab.

‘Shrinking in supply, growing in demand’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Since the 1980s, warmer spring temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region have been melting the snowpack earlier, with increasing temperatures tabbed as the main factor in the decline, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The agency carefully tracks streamflows and snowpack measurements, with decades of data now showing clear trends toward shorter winters, earlier spring runoff and an overall 20 percent shrinkage of the snowpack in the mountains of the western U.S.

The researchers say at least part of the changes are due to global warming caused by heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but that natural variability is also a factor. Regardless of the exact cause, the snowpack decline is already causing major headaches for water managers in the region facing dwindling supplies and increased demand.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District will focus on some of the emerging critical water questions during its annual water seminar (Sept. 13, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) in Grand Junction. USGS researcher Greg Pederson, who is the lead author on some of the key snowpack studies, will discuss how spring is killing the Rocky Mountain snowpack, especially at lower elevations, where the effects of warmer temperatures are more pronounced. 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

Hearing shines spotlight on Colorado River woes

The dried up delta where the Colorado River reaches the Sea of Cortez

The dried up delta where the Colorado River reaches the Sea of Cortez is symbolic of the challenges facing the river.More information at this NASA Earth Observatory website.

‘Make every drop count’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The Colorado River took center stage in Congress for a few hours this week, as the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power focused on a recent Colorado River study that predicts a growing gap between what the demand for water and what the river can deliver.

The hearing was chaired Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, who knows first-hand what is at stake, from the headwaters in the mighty Rockies down to the Gulf of California. Business as usual just won’t cut it, Udall said, advocating for a short-term focus on conservation, innovation and better management of supply. A video of the hearing, as well as the written testimony of the witnesses, is online here. 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 reservoirs 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.

Environment: All eyes on the Colorado River

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

The paradox of water in the desert, illustrated by a NASA satellite image of the Colorado River.

Projected water shortages spur more conservation and  collaboration

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Federal agencies say they will try to offer leadership, technical expertise and — perhaps most importantly — money, as southwestern states grapple with what could be significant water shortages in the Colorado River Basin during the coming decades.

At a major water powwow in California this week, all the major stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin said they’re ready to work together to find a long-term, systematic solution to the potential long-term imbalance between the Colorado River’s future supply and projected demands.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation‘s latest effort outlined three major areas — agricultural conservation and transfers, municipal/industrial conservation and reuse, and environmental flows — that will be the subjects of immediate focus in a series of ongoing work group sessions. Continue reading

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