Water Update

by John Orr 

Drought and Trout

Back in May, Front Range cities were falling all over themselves telling their customers that there would be no watering restrictions over the summer turf season, despite the fact that a meager snowpack – rivaling the drought year of 2002 – was melting out weeks early.

When the Upper Colorado River, South Platte and Arkansas River basins dried up and melted out during May, Stage 1 restrictions – usually voluntary – suddenly became the name of the game up and down the populated side of Colorado. But with record high temperatures consumption was through the roof, as much as 20% above 2011 for the year in some of the cities around Denver. Mandatory water restrictions are now on the horizon in areas worried about the Water Year 2013 snowpack.

The U.S. is in the middle of a drought that came on like gangbusters over a few months. As we go to press most of Colorado is in D3 – Extreme Drought – according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website. Much of the corn belt has been affected. Ranchers are culling and liquidating cattle herds across Colorado and Wyoming due to lack of feed and high prices for imported hay, if they can find it.

So take it easy on the trout when you’re out for some late-season angling. Fish really have a rough time in a drought in Colorado. Senior water rights holders still divert their share of the streamflow, often drying up streams. Low streamflow leads to higher water temperatures – 70 degrees is where the problems start – and reduced oxygen levels due to algae blooms.

Conditions are bad and getting worse. Colorado Trout Unlimited’s Drew Peternell told the Summit County Citizens Voice, “With low flows and high water temperatures, trout populations will be in survival mode this summer. Unless and until flow conditions improve, we’re asking anglers, ‘give our fish a break.’”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists started monitoring Upper Arkansas River water temperatures in June with an eye towards protecting the fishery. So far the hot weather and low flows have produced a good bug population but the worry is heat stress for the trout. According to a press release, “Anglers on the Arkansas are encouraged to continue fishing, but asked to be careful with the release of their catch.”

Colorado’s long-term weather outlook is not too bad. Forecaster Klaus Wolter told the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Availability Task Force in late July that, “it looks like we’re going to stay in a typical monsoon pattern, with above average temperatures, for the rest of the summer.”

The North American Monsoon results from the movement of sub-tropical moisture northward out of the Gulf of Mexico and eastern Pacific Ocean through Arizona and New Mexico into Colorado. Monsoon rains can bolster streamflow for a time, but also introduce flash flooding, particularly in areas of past wildfire. The moisture can also dampen demand for outside irrigation.

El Niño is setting up in the eastern Pacific Ocean. “We’re not officially there yet but we are trending towards an El Niño,” AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson, told USA Today.

Conditions in the eastern Pacific are officially “ENSO Neutral” termed “La Nada” by some. However, water temperatures are rising off Peru and trade wins are favorable, according to Wolter.

El Niño autumns can be very wet and that is the hope, of course. No one wants to see another winter of dismal snowpack. Wolter informed us that the “… mountains in general get less snow in a El Niño winter but the next four months should see increased moisture.”


Adiós Ed

Ed Quillen, former purveyor of this magazine, was the first person to take a chance on my writing, telling me in an email in 2007 that, “Colorado Central pays a nickel a word, often late.”

A few years later, when I finally got to meet him in person at a Colorado Central potluck, I wandered into his backyard and introduced myself. “Hi, I’m John Orr,” I said to Ed’s bewhiskered face.

“The Water Guy,” he said.

He’ll never know how much that simple title meant to me.

Colorado is lucky, or not, depending on your point of view, to have Greg Hobbs serving on the Colorado Supreme Court as the water expert. I received email from Hobbs with a timestamp of 2:14 AM, the morning after we found out about Ed’s passing. The email contained a poetic tribute to Ed: (Reprinted with permission.)


Hurrah for Quillen!

This incomparable

Curmudgeon Wit gloried in the

great First Amendment.


I know there is not general agreement that Ed was a curmudgeon. (See last month’s issue of Colorado Central.) He did portray that image at times, however. Let’s just say that Ed was “full of the devil,” as my grandmother Gertie used to say.





Short Takes

• “The Taylor River accounts for two-thirds of the boating user days in the Gunnison Basin. The $4 million in economic activity this generates helps fill restaurants and rental houses and keeps energetic ski area workers employed off season.”

– Summit Daily News

• 2012 is the “Year of Water” as proclaimed by Governor Hickenlooper. As part of the celebration in the San Luis Valley water-interested persons got a tour of the San Luis People’s Ditch, according to the Valley Courier. The system has the oldest priority in Colorado – 1852.

• The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission turned down Aaron Million’s application for the pipeline from the Green River to Colorado’s Front Range. This prompted Stacy Tellinghuisen from Western Resource Advocates to quip, “The Flaming Gorge Pipeline has been rejected more often than a freshman before prom.” Million did not include sufficient design to satisfy the FERC. He has promised that it will be forthcoming.

• 2012 is the twentieth anniversary of the big spill down the Alamosa River from the Summitville Mine.

• Rio Grande Reservoir is 100 years old this year. Construction began in 1912 and was completed in 1914. The reservoir provides storage for agricultural needs and is used for compact compliance, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and flood control.

• In May the Arkansas Basin Roundtable heard about a new effort to develop a statewide water plan from John Stulp and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, according to The Pueblo Chieftain. My hope is that the new plan will replace the current statewide plan where water rights holders beat each other up in water court.

• Congratulations to the recent Great Outdoors Colorado funding recipients in the San Luis Valley: Conejos River Ranch open space, Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Conejos County, $420,000; Los Caminos Farm open space, Colorado Open Lands, Costilla County, $420,500; Lookout Mountain Park land acquisition, Del Norte, Rio Grande County, $132,350; and Ski-Hi Park Pavilion, Rio Grande County, $179,990. (Information from The Pueblo Chieftain)

• Finally, I hope you have been spared the ravages of wildfire this season. The weekend that the Waldo Canyon Fire blew up it seemed like the whole state was going to burn.


John Orr covers Colorado Water issues at Coyote Gulch (www.coyotegulch.net) and on Twitter (@coyotegulch).