“Sneaky drought” robs runoff, leaving reservoirs thirsty, producers deal with tough markets, budgetary challenges abound
News from Kathleen’s Korner
Even as COVID-19 throws a wrench in our ability to hold in person meetings, the Gunnison Basin Round Table remains busy via a series of remote meetings and processes to accomplish our many goals and objectives. Fundamental to our work is the availability of state funding, which is the topic I would like to briefly explore with you.
The water community, our Round Table included, has long benefited from grant and low interest loan programs administered by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and authorized by the Colorado General Assembly. Unfortunately, a perfect storm has hit the three major sources of funding for water programs; mineral severance taxes, legislative appropriations, and on-line sports gaming revenue. All three funding sources have been hit hard by pandemic-related economic slow down. The extraction of oil and gas resources has skidded to a halt resulting in a fraction of normal revenues to the state; the legislature is looking at having to reduce its general fund appropriations by 25% based on the most recent revenue forecasts, meaning there is little ability to backfill programs with general fund transfers and there are no sports to bet on, so on-line gaming revenue isn’t rolling in.
I can’t think of any aspect of the budget that is going to survive the current financial crisis unscathed, including water supply-related programs, even if they are independently funded by user fees. The General Assembly is required to balance the budget, whatever it takes, and that will include sweeping cash fund balances, transferring reserves, reducing or eliminating programs – and it still might not be enough given that the state budget is facing a projected shortfall in excess of $3.3 billion. For the water community, we will be seeing transfers from existing programmatic fund balances, fee increases for services offered by the Division of Water Resources, reductions in new appropriations for the Aquatic Nuisance Fund and Species Conservation Trust Fund, reductions to fund balances in the construction loan program, and lack of funding in future years for existing grant programs such as the Water Supply Reserve Fund.
The Gunnison Basin Round Table is in the process of prioritizing its available funding in light of these budget uncertainties. Our Basin Implementation Plan (BIP) update committee has been meeting and working remotely under the leadership of the chairman, John McClow, and with the assistance of our newly hired Local Expert, Luke Gingerich of J-U-B Engineers. Our first job is refine the list of potential projects by reflecting work that has already been done, and then we need to either add or subtract project concepts that reflect the needs of the basin. In addition to the activities of our BIP committee, our Grant Review committee, under the leadership of Tom Alvey, has been evaluating a number of applications for Water Supply Reserve Fund grant money. Fundamental to the work of both committees and the round table as a whole is the availability of state funding.
The BIP is a vision statement for our basin that unfortunately will be adversely impacted by new financial constraints resulting in extended timelines and new priorities. Even though near-term funding projections are bleak, long-tern funding for water projects are still on the table.
We encourage the public to provided us with your project ideas for inclusion in the BIP and as always, we encourage your direct participation in planning and funding programs. The GRBT is here to help where it can!
More information on the Gunnison River Basin Round Table.
Recent Water News
March 2020 Data Shows a 23% Increase in Farm Bankruptcies
COVID-19 will likely push farm bankruptcies higher. Given the challenges to the farm economy in recent years, i.e., low commodity prices, retaliatory tariffs and natural disasters, it’s no surprise that farm bankruptcies continue to rise. (photo: Sharon Stapleton)
2020 is a Dry Year on the Colorado. What Happens Next Year Will be more Important
This winter’s decent snowfall has turned into an abysmal runoff on the Colorado River, thanks to the dry soils heading into the winter, along with a warm spring. It’s alarming, but given the large amount of storage capacity in the basin and the recent string of good runoff years in the Upper Basin, with five of the last six years close to average or better, most of the basin’s water users will not face significant problems this year.
Gunnison County Announces “Pay it Forward” COVID-19 Business Emergency Loan Fund
Gunnison County, in partnership with Region 10, established its “Pay It Forward” COVID-19 Business Emergency Loan Fund to help assist businesses located in Gunnison County that have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
Rafting Season Ready to Launch, But COVID-19 Worries Running High
Colorado’s stringent COVID-19 travel and recreation restrictions are forcing commercial rafting companies to create social distance on unruly rivers and face the potential for smaller crowds.
Colorado Snowpack Melting Faster Than Usual Snowpack Melting Faster Than Usual as Drought Conditions Grow across the State
Although Colorado enjoyed a decent winter in terms of snowfall, all that snow is going away far quicker than usual.
Where’s the WATER? We have your summary update
Conditions across the west and in the Colorado River Basin are dry and getting drier, especially the 4 Corners regions and in the Arkansas.
From the Drought Monitor: “Conditions in Nevada and Utah continue to decline with an intensification of moderate and severe drought over northern portions of both states as the short-term dryness is starting to combine with the long-term issues in these areas. New Mexico had an expansion of moderate, severe, and extreme drought in the northern portions of the state as some of the recent dryness is coupled with longer-term issues in the drought indicators. Abnormally dry conditions were expanded over most of eastern New Mexico as a result of short-term issues. Southwest Colorado had an expansion of extreme and severe drought conditions while moderate drought was expanded northward over the central portion of the state.”
|The Gunnison Basin snowpack reached its seasonal peak BELOW the long-term average, as shown in the snow hydrograph below. Due to dry soils and low snowpack, forecasters are predicting that it will be below average water supply conditions for the Gunnison River Basin (click here to review the Gunnison Basin summary table from Colorado Basin River Forecast Center), Seasonal (April-July) inflow volumes predicted for our reservoirs have dropped significantly and are now between 40-70% of average. Specifically, mid-May forecasts call for Taylor Park Reservoir inflows to be 70% of average, Blue Mesa Reservoir inflow to be 59% of average, Ridgway Reservoir Inflow to be 54% of average and Paonia Reservoir inflow volume to be 40% of average. However, with good carry over from last year, most of our large reservoirs will be be able to meet the anticipated early seasonal water needs, late season demands may need to rely on summer ‘monsoonal’ rains.
The Gunnison Basin website archives the latest hydro-meteorological forecast news; conditions are always subject to dramatic change, stay tuned.
| Funding Opportunities in the Gunnison River Basin
Funding for water projects that help improve and conserve water and land resources can be found on GunnisonRiverBasin.org, such as Colorado Water Plan Grants, US Department of Agriculture federal grants and loans, and Colorado Water Conservation Board state grants and loans.
River Resources and Social Media Connections
River levels and real-time data, Facebook and Twitter.
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