“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it” — Matt Heimerich

October 20, 2014
Fountain Creek Watershed

Fountain Creek Watershed

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district formed to improve Fountain Creek last week made an appeal for those with water rights to get involved in the early stages of a study to build flood control structures.

“Water rights protection is something we should do before we get into any other aspect of flood control on Fountain Creek,” Larry Small, executive director of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District told ditch company board members Friday.

Small spoke during the annual meeting of the winter water storage program, bringing experts in to talk about the issue of public safety vs. water rights.

“We’re not working in a vacuum,” said Mark Pifher, who represents the Arkansas River basin on the state Water Quality Control Commission.

Denver’s regional Urban Drainage Authority and the city of Aspen have raised questions with the Colorado Division of Water Resources over how floodwater detention rules work in the state, Pifher explained.

State Engineer Dick Wolfe has adopted policies that say that single-site developments can hold water for 72 hours, but that regional floodwater control projects must augment any water detained with equivalent releases under a substitute water supply plan. That same principle was applied to Fountain Creek when the city of Pueblo built a detention pond behind the North Side Walmart as part of a demonstration project. The city learned it needed an augmentation plan after the project was well underway. Urban Drainage and Aspen officials are not pleased with the policy and are looking at potential state legislation to force a change in that policy, Pifher said.

Short of a blanket change that would allow the 72-hour rule to apply, the Fountain Creek district wants to study whose rights would be affected by holding back a large flood.

A study by the U.S.

Geological Survey completed last year provided solid numbers about how much water dams or detention ponds would hold back at certain points on Fountain Creek. That in turn can be applied to the flows at the Avondale gauge on the Arkansas River, which is upstream from every major ditch except the Bessemer below Pueblo Dam.

Flood stage

After Pueblo Dam went into operation 40 years ago, it was determined that flood stage at Avondale was 6,000 cubic feet per second. Floods upstream of Pueblo Dam are contained by curtailing releases to that level.

The last time flood control protection from that type of event was in 1999. Flows on Fountain Creek are measured and Pueblo Dam can be cut back to prevent that flooding from affecting Avondale as well, said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer.

“You can have those huge flashy flows on Fountain Creek and find ways to cut back at Pueblo Dam to protect downstream communities,” Tyner said.

Reservoirs on Fountain Creek would have to perform differently, because there would not be Bureau of Reclamation staff on hand to open or shut release gates, he said.

Quenching all thirst

Several storm events that occurred in the past four years caused the Avondale gauge to top 6,000 cfs for several hours.

“Those spot events did not satisfy everyone’s needs downstream,” Tyner said.

That doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer.

“If I have 24 hours of floodwater on the Colorado Canal, I’m going to take it. I need it,” said Matt Heimerich of Crowley County.

“Those floods are the only way we get water in storage,” said Donny Hansen, president of the Holbrook Canal.

The direct rights downstream from Avondale and above John Martin Reservoir can be met with about 4,115 cfs, but storage rights on the canals total 3,631 cfs, he explained. Water rights below John Martin require another 1,534 cfs to be met.

So, all water rights below Avondale on the Arkansas River total about 9,282 cfs.

The 6,000 cfs at Avondale might be enough to satisfy all those rights, since the return flows of one ditch are reused downstream, a factor of about 1.5 times, he said.

But the envisioned dams on Fountain Creek are aimed at stopping monster 100-year floods — the type where heavy rain falls for several days. In the USGS study, a large dam or series of dams upstream of the Fountain Creek confluence would cut in half the peak flow of a 100-year flood — 44,000 cfs, or five times the amount of water needed to fulfill all downstream water rights.

The 100-year flood flow at Avondale, coincidentally, is 44,000 cfs, according to the USGS.

Moving ahead

The Fountain Creek district is not the only agency working at flood control in the Pueblo area. The Pueblo Conservancy District, in the headlines recently for its plan to rebuild the Arkansas River levee through Pueblo, also is responsible for the flood plain from Pueblo to the Otero County line.

“The high flows on Fountain Creek are a source of erosion that affects the land in our district down below,” said Bud O’Hara, a retired water engineer who is on the Pueblo Conservancy District board.

O’Hara showed graphs that point out about a dozen smaller events this year that created the potential for minor erosion events.

Farmers, on the other hand, generally like the erosion on Fountain Creek because it is part of the process that carries sediment downstream to help seal ditches. Many still grumble about the “clear water” that resulted from the construction of Pueblo Dam. In effect, it meant the erosive properties of the river were transferred downstream as more erosion occurred within ditch systems.

Abby Ortega, an engineer for Colorado Springs Utilities working with the Fountain Creek district, asked the farmers to provide suggestions for consultants to study the issue.

“We’re looking at how to build structures and not injure water rights,” she said. “We’re asking for your input.”

“I think the model we should use is the irrigation efficiency rules that was hosted by Dick Wolfe,” Heimerich responded. In that process, farmers and others affected by proposed rules guiding ditch improvements met for 18 months and were able to give immediate feedback. “It’s just too important not to do it right.”

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


Lower Fryingpan River “relatively healthy” — Roaring Fork Conservancy

October 16, 2014

Didymosphenia

Didymosphenia


From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The lower Fryingpan River ecosystem is relatively healthy even though an algae with the notorious nickname “rock snot” has taken hold, according to preliminary results of a study commissioned by the Roaring Fork Conservancy.

Muck from the stream bottom was scooped up from three sites last fall to get a count of macroinvertebrates — bugs that can’t leave the river. An analysis over the winter showed the numbers were in line with results from a similar study in 2003, according to Heather Tattersall Lewin, watershed action director for the nonprofit organization.

“That was good for us to see,” she told the Basalt Town Council on Tuesday night in a briefing about the preliminary results. Macroinvertebrates provide food for the fish in the river.

Populations of the American dipper bird, an important indicator species for river health, were also promising, according to Tattersall Lewin. A consultant found 28 mating pairs and observed that 23 of them were successful in producing young.

Constant monitoring of water temperatures since October 2013 also didn’t produce any red flags…

The Roaring Fork Conservancy’s study didn’t produce all good news. Rock snot, formally known as Didymosphenia geminate and often called Didymo, appears here to stay.

The conservancy hired students from Colorado Mountain College in Leadville to monitor the river periodically for rock snot. They searched for the specific algae in the spring and after peak runoff at 20 sites. They found the coverage was in fewer places after runoff and that it wasn’t as dense in places where it was still found, Tattersall Lewin said.

The CMC students will search for the algae again this weekend to see if it surged back after the lower flows of summer.

Tattersall Lewin said rock snot isn’t your typical, slippery algae. It grows in clumps in a consistency she compared to coarse toilet paper. It appears to collect more easily on the flat, angular rocks of the Fryingpan than the rounded cobble of the Roaring Fork River, she said.

The effects of rock snot on the ecosystem aren’t certain. International studies show Didymo is proliferating even in the healthiest streams, according to Tattersall Lewin. Studies are examining whether the growth is related to climate change.

Rick Lofaro, the conservancy’s executive director, said two management policies by the reclamation bureau, which controls water flows from the dam, appear capable of reducing rock snot. First, maintaining a higher minimum flow during winters and dry times could avoid the buildup. Second, high, sustained water releases during spring runoff would help flush the river and benefit it in numerous ways. The rock snot would disintegrate.

More Fryingpan River watershed coverage here.


Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment for Two Salinity Control Projects

October 15, 2014

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south


Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for two proposed salinity control projects. The documents assessed and addressed the potential effects of the Bostwick Park Water Conservancy District’s Siphon Lateral Salinity Control Project in Montrose County, Colorado and the Forked Tongue/Holman Ditch Company’s Salinity Control Project located in Delta County, Colorado.

The Bostwick Park Project will pipe 1.76 miles of existing earthen ditch and will result in an annual reduction of 413 tons of salt contributions to the Colorado River. The Forked Tongue/Holman Ditch Project will pipe 1.89 miles of existing earthen ditch and will result in an annual reduction of 412 tons of salt contributions to the Colorado River. The purpose of both projects is to improve the efficiency of water delivery to canal users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.


Aspinall Unit update: 350 cfs in Black Canyon

October 14, 2014
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1250 cfs to 1150 cfs on Wednesday, October 15th at 8:00 AM. Releases are being decreased to time with the brown trout spawn. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows have remained relatively high due to the September rains and flows are expected to stay above the October baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 800 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 450 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 800 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.


Reclamation: Check it out! Two Reclamation employees perform a rope inspection of Granby Spillway #ColoradoRiver

October 12, 2014


Reclamation, Northern Water Reach Tentative Agreement on Windy Gap Firming Project #ColoradoRiver

October 10, 2014

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Tyler Johnson):

Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water Conservancy District and Northern Water’s Municipal Subdistrict have been negotiating a contract that would allow the Subdistrict to use excess, or unused, capacity in Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project for the Windy Gap Project and future Windy Gap Firming Project.

The 30-day public comment period will open October 8, and close November 7. The comment period provides the public the opportunity to comment on the Contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 (Reclamation Project Act of 1939) Determination Memos.

“This project will make more efficient use of existing water rights,” said Reclamation’s Great Plains Regional Director Mike Ryan. “When completed, Windy Gap Firming would provide water storage for 13 municipal providers.”

The contract will allow for the introduction, storage, conveyance, exchange, substitution, and delivery of water for Municipal Subdistrict, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and allows the flexibility to move or preposition water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project in Colorado.

Section 14 authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to enter into contracts for the exchange or replacement of water, water rights, or electrical energy for the adjustment of water rights. Senate Document 80 contains guidelines for Project Facilities operations and Auxiliary Features.

“There has been a need for a storage reservoir for Windy Gap water for more than 25 years,” said Ryan. “We are getting much closer to making that a reality, and making better use of America’s infrastructure, while also creating needed jobs in the process.”

For more information on the contract, Senate Document 80, and Section 14 Determination Memos, contact Lois Petersen at (406) 247-7752 or lapetersen@usbr.gov.

More Windy Gap coverage here.


McPhee Reservoir update: “…inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously” — Vern Harrell

October 3, 2014


From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Recent rains are filling McPhee Reservoir, improving its outlook for next season.The reservoir’s elevation is 4½ feet higher than this time last year, reports Vern Harrell, a Bureau of Reclamation engineer.

“This latest storm produced 1,676 acre-feet of storage,” he said. “Irrigation outflow is pretty much done, and the inflow from the Dolores River is helping us tremendously.”

Carryover storage as of Oct. 1, 2014, is at 34,185 acre-feet, compared with 21,943 acre-feet for the same day last year, an increase of 12,242 acre-feet.

Last year, farmers suffered shortages, receiving just 25 percent of their normal water allocation because of poor snowpack and early hot weather.

This year, farmers from Dove Creek to Towaoc received 90-100 percent of their allocation, and monsoon rains reduced overall irrigation demand.

“It turned out to be a good water year,” Harrell said.

On Sept. 29, the Dolores River hit a record peak of 1,060 cubic feet per second — up from 100 cfs the day before — because of a massive rainfall event in the San Juan Mountains over the weekend. The previous record on that day was 626 cfs in 1927. On Oct. 1, the river at Dolores was flowing at 456 cfs, a boatable level.

Also this fall, significant upgrades to McPhee’s irrigation infrastructure will begin. The Bureau and the Dolores Water Conservancy District secured $4.5 million in funding for the improvements.

Automated pumping stations at Fairview, Pleasant View, Ruin Canyon, Cahone, and Dove Creek are all slated for upgrades, said DWCD engineer Ken Curtis.

The majority of the funding ($4 million) for the upgrades comes from revenues generated at the Glen Canyon hydro-electric power plant. DWCD pitched in $465,000.

“The Colorado Basin Power funds were used to pay for new reservoir projects, but there are no more of those, so now it distributes the money for upgrades and maintenance of existing facilities,” Curtis said.

The Fairview Pumping plant, which feeds off the Dove Creek canal, will receive the first overhaul at a cost of $1.6 million.

“The $500,000 needed for installation came in and construction is slated to begin in November,” Harrell said.

Now that the farming season is over, three variable-speed pumps and their 500-horsepower motors will be replaced, along with electronics and transformers.

The Fairview station delivers irrigation water through underground pipelines to 8,000 acres of farmland southwest of Yellow Jacket…

A wet fall and some carryover storage is a good sign for boaters as well. Officials say the reservoir needs an above-average winter snowpack to fill.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.


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