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Colorado: March 1 survey shows healthy snowpack

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Big parts of the West are experiencing a moisture deficit this winter, with drought continuing in California.

Northwest flow favors Colorado’s northern mountains

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For the third month in a row, Colorado snowpack is tracking above average. February, ended with the snowpack at 116 percent of median, with snowfall to-date for the water year (starting Oct. 1) at 133 percent of average.

A series of wet storm cycles pummeled the mountains during the month, with the bullseye over the north-central region, where some stations reported nearly double the average monthly snowfall. The no-Niño weather pattern has left a moisture deficit in the southwest part of the state, where the Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, are still experiencing below normal snow conditions for this time of year. Continue reading

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Water: How long will the Southwest’s acequias survive?

Dartmouth study details threats to historic communal irrigation 

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A patchwork of fields around Taos, New Mexico

Staff Report

FRISCO — The historic communal irrigation systems known as acequias Southwest are in decline as snowmelt dwindles and water priorities shift. Social and economic shifts favoring modernism over tradition, are also factors on the decline, according to a new study from Dartmouth College.

Similar trends have been observed in other parts of the world, where rural communities that once fended for themselves are becoming integrated into larger economies, which provide benefits of modern living but also the uncertainties of larger-scale market fluctuations. The study appears in the journal Global Environmental Change. Continue reading

Climate: Storms bolster Colorado snowpack

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Colorado’s snowpack is above average as of Feb. 1.

Feb. 1 snow survey results suggest decent spring runoff for most of the state

By Summit  Voice

FRISCO — Colorado’s snowpack surged to above average in late January thanks to a strong storm that brought snow statewide, federal water experts said last week. The Feb. 1 snow survey showed the average snowpack across the Colorado mountains at 107 percent of average, and 152 percent above last year’s Feb. 1 reading.

As of Feb. 1, only the Upper Rio Grande (82 percent) and San Juan (79 percent) basins in the southern part of the state were below average, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Continue reading

Climate: Colorado snowpack tracking near average

Above-average precipitation in October and November give state a headstart to the runoff season

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Colorado snowpack is tracking very near average for the winter so far.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The snowpack in nearly every river basin in Colorado is at or above normal, federal watchers said this week.

This year’s January 1 snowpack readings are at 103 percent of median statewide, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist with the NRCS.

“This is a great start to the 2014 water year. As we saw in 2012 and 2013, early seasons deficits are difficult to make up later in the season … so being right where we should be this time of year gives us a head start compared to the past couple of years,” Philipps said. Continue reading

Global warming: Parts of Upper Rio Grande Basin could see water supply dwindle by 25 percent

Climate projections include more droughts and floods

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In the summer of 2013, New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir dwindled to its lowest level in forty years. By late July, despite the arrival of monsoon rains, the reservoir was still virtually empty. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory. Click on the image for more information.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Warmer temperatures and earlier spring runoff will cut water supplies by 25 percent in some key parts of the Upper Rio Grande Basin, according to a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

According to the projections used by the agency, temperatures will rise about 4 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and even though there won’t be a big change in total annual precipitation, the snowpack and runoff will shrink, and there will be more frequent and intense droughts and floods.

“This report uses the most current information and state of the art scientific methodology to project a range of future supply scenarios in the upper Rio Grande basin,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “It is a great first step and a call to action for water managers and users in the basin and the partner federal agencies to move forward and develop adaptation to the challenges this study brings to light.” Continue reading

Environment: Court rejects Las Vegas water grab

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Court rebuffs Las Vegas plan for unsustainable groundwater mining.

Nevada’s fragile desert spring ecosystems safe for at least a little while longer

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Nevada judge this week blocked a Las Vegas water grab that would rob future generations of precious groundwater resources.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority had proposed siphoning 37 billion gallons from remote underground aquifers in a plan that was challenged by the Center for Biological Diversity and its allies in the Great Basin Water Network, as well as by White Pine County, Nev.

According to federal studies, the groundwater pumping, hundreds of miles north of the city, would destroy more than 137,000 acres of wildlife habitat by lowering groundwater tables by up to 200 feet in many areas — all to fuel unsustainable growth in the desert metropolis.

In 2011, the Nevada Division of Water Resources gave the project a thumbs-up by allocating 84,000 acre-feet of ancient groundwater a year to the Southern Nevada Water Authority for export to Las Vegas, but Senior Judge Robert Estes of the Seventh Judicial District Court of Nevada said that allocation is unfair to future Nevadans and not in the public interest. Continue reading

Report: Unsustainable groundwater pumping leads to record land subsidence in California’s Central Valley

USGS outlines threats to critical infrastructure

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California’s Central Valley, as seen from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Farmers and cities in central California are pumping so much groundwater that the land is rapidly subsiding across a large area, with potentially serious consequences for the region’s water infrastructure.

In a report released last week, the U.S. Geological Survey said the subsidence is occurring in such a way that there may be significant operational and structural challenges that need to be overcome to ensure reliable water delivery. In some places, the land subsided as much as 25 feet between 1926 and 1970.

Delivery of surface water from the north helped relieve pressure on the aquifers, but drought conditions between 1976–77 and 1987–92, and drought conditions and regulatory reductions in surface-water deliveries during 2007–10, once again led to increased pumping and renewed subsidence. Continue reading

Environment: ‘Extreme’ dust-on-snow events can speed runoff in Colorado River Basin by six weeks

2013 brought record levels of dust to Colorado’s mountains

More frequent desert dust storms dropping pollution on the Rocky Mountain snowpack is one of the climate change impacts affect the high country.

More frequent desert dust storms dropping pollution on the Rocky Mountain snowpack is one of the climate change impacts affecting the Colorado high country.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Dust storms that darken the Rocky Mountain snowpack and speed snowmelt are becoming more extreme, according to new research. Particularly heavy dust-on-snow events can speed the melt-out of the snowpack by a full six weeks, all other factors being equal, said Jeffrey Deems, a researcher with the Western Water Assessment and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

“In 2006 we were impressed at how much dust there was. Then 2009 turned up, and 2010, and 2013 was the dustiest year we’ve recorded in the San Juans,” Deems said, explaining that the latest study, put together by researchers with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences was aimed at updating previous work with data from those heavy dust years.

Last spring, on April 8, a single 16-hour dust storm dropped more dust on the San Juans than the annual totals in any previous winter since scientists started taking detailed measurements, said Chris Landry, director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, which tracks the dust-on-snow events via a network of observation sites. Continue reading

House GOP tries to heist federal water rights

Radical anti-environmental GOP leaders seek to privatize water

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Tenmile Creek flows through the White River National Forest near Frisco, Colorado, helping to sustain aquatic ecosystems. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Anti-environmental House Republicans are at it again, this time trying to pull of one of the greatest heists of all time by passing a law that would ban agencies like the National Park Service and the Forest Service from exerting any control over water flowing off federal lands.

House Resolution 3189, the so-called Water Rights Protection Act, wouldn’t actually protect any water; instead, it would open the door for more private development of water for fracking and urban development by prohibiting “the conditioning of any permit, lease or any other use agreement on the transfer, relinquishment, or other impairment of any water right to the United States by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture.” Continue reading

Global warming: Water shortages loom for millions

‘This is not about ducks and daisies, but the very basis of life’

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By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As many as 500 million people could face water shortages in the coming decades, as a warming climate affects global water supplies.

“We managed to quantify a number of crucial impacts of climate change on the global land area,” said Dieter Gerten, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Mean global warming of 2 degrees Celsius, the target set by the international community, is projected to expose an additional 8 percent of humankind to new or increased water scarcity. If global temperatures increase by 3.5 degrees Celsius, shortages would affect  11 percent of the world population. Continue reading

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