Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment for Developing Hydropower at Drop 4 of the South Canal

September 5, 2014
Uncompahgre River watershed

Uncompahgre River watershed

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 a hydropower project at Drop 4 of the South Canal, part of the Uncompahgre Project in Montrose, Colorado.

The project, proposed by the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, will be located at existing Reclamation facilities on the South Canal. A Lease of Power Privilege will authorize the use of federal facilities and Uncompahgre Project water to construct, operate, and maintain a 4.8 megawatt hydropower facility and 1.27 miles of associated interconnect power lines.

The hydropower plant will operate on irrigation water conveyed in the South Canal, and no new diversions will occur as a result of the hydropower project. Construction activities and operation of the hydropower plant will not affect the delivery of irrigation water.

The final environmental assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact is available on our web site or a copy can be received by contacting Reclamation.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Aspinall Unit operations meeting Thursday, Septmember 4

September 2, 2014

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The next Aspinall Unit Operations Meeting will be held at the Elk Creek Visitor Center at Blue Mesa Reservoir this Thursday, September 4th at 1 PM. Handouts will be available on the website prior to the meeting.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update: “We can’t dry up the creeks” — Kara Lamb #ColoradoRiver

September 1, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverted about 80,200 acre-feet of water under the Continental Divide to the Front Range this year, according to Kara Lamb, spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the system.

That is about 67 percent higher than the average diversion of 48,000 acre-feet over the 52-year lifetime of the system, she said. More water was diverted this year because of a higher-than-average snowpack and lots of rain starting in mid-July, according to Lamb.

Nevertheless, river and stream water levels have dropped to the point where diversions must be stopped to maintain minimum stream flows.

“This week and next week, we are shutting down the diversion system,” she said Friday. “We can’t dry up the creeks.”

Ruedi Reservoir is about 93 percent full right now. That’s slightly above average, according to the Reclamation Bureau’s records. The amount of water currently being released from Ruedi Dam is 267 cubic feet per second, about average for Sept. 1.

Water is still being diverted from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen. The Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System has diverted an estimated 59,400 acre-feet thus far this water year, which started in October 2013, according to water data on the Colorado Division of Water Resources website. Kevin Lusk, a water-supply engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities helped The Aspen Times interpret the data on the state’s website.

The average annual diversion over the past 79 years has been 42,000 acre-feet. This year’s diversion is already 17,400 acre-feet above average, or 41 percent higher.

The diversion system operated by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. taps a 45-square-mile area at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The system diverts water from the Roaring Fork River near Lost Man Campground. In addition, it diverts some of the water in Lost Man Creek, Lincoln Creek, Brooklyn Creek, Tabor Creek, New York Creek and Grizzly Creek, according to a description on the website of Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit that monitors water quantity and quality issues.

The conservancy’s weekly watershed river report, released each Thursday, showed that Twin Lakes Tunnel was diverting water at a rate of 80 cubic feet per second on Aug. 28 from the Roaring Fork River headwaters. Meanwhile, the river was flowing at only 49 cfs in Aspen that same day.

The Roaring Fork River is dammed near Lost Man Campground. The river below the dam runs at a trickle. It’s replenished to some degree by various creeks before it reaches Aspen.

Without the diversion, the Roaring Fork River flow would be 129 cubic feet per second in Aspen, or about 2.5 times what it is running now. Superior water rights allow the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. to divert an amount greater than the river flow.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


Aspinall unit operations update: 1100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel diversion

August 27, 2014

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced from 1800 cfs to 1600 cfs on Tuesday, August 26th at 4:00 PM. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. Significant rainfall has been occurring in the basin this week and the river forecast shows flows continuing to remain above the target for the 10 day forecast period.

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 1500 cfs for August. For September, the baseflow target will be 1050 cfs.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 750 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 550 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.


Flagstaff: Adaptive Management Work Group to Meet in Flagstaff, Ariz., on #ColoradoRiver Topics — August 27 – 28

August 26, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that the Adaptive Management Work Group will meet on August 27 – 28, 2014 in Flagstaff, Ariz., to address topics related to the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program. The AMWG committee provides a forum for discussion of topics related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam and ongoing monitoring of resource conditions downstream of the dam.
A number of agenda items will be covered during the two-day meeting including current Upper Colorado River Basin hydrology and Glen Canyon Dam operations; the Water Year 2015 hydrograph; science updates on food-base studies, status of humpback chub and trout and new insights on trout-chub dynamics, and the changing substrate of the Colorado River; 2015-2017 budget and work plan items; new information on razorback sucker in western Grand Canyon; and the status of the Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement including draft alternatives, process, and current schedule.

The AMWG is a federal advisory committee appointed by the Secretary of the Interior with representatives from federal agencies, Colorado River Basin states, Native American Tribal governments, environmental groups, recreation interests, and contractors for federal power from Glen Canyon Dam. The Secretary receives recommendations on how to best protect downstream resources and balance river operations through the varied stakeholder interests represented by the AMWG.

The meeting will be held at the Little America Hotel, Ballroom B, 2515 East Butler Avenue, Flagstaff, Ariz. The meeting will begin on August 27, at 9:30 a.m. and conclude at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will run from 8:00 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on August 28.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


USBR finds $2 million for the Arkansas Valley Conduit for the current fiscal year

August 15, 2014

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas Valley Conduit has received $2 million for the current fiscal year through reprogramming of funds within the Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall.

“Folks in Southeast Colorado have been waiting a long time for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit,” Bennet said. “Making these resources available for the conduit is crucial to completing this phase of the project and moving it one step closer to completion.”

Earlier this year, the senators backed legislation that loosened purse strings within the Bureau of Reclamation and allowed for transfer of funds to projects such as the conduit, which was first authorized in the 1962 Fryingpan-Arkansas Act.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, sponsor of the project, was dismayed when President Barack Obama’s budget submitted to Congress contained only $500,000 in funding this year. More was needed to complete planning and feasibility analysis before the design work and land acquisition can begin.

“Southern Coloradans have been counting on the Arkansas Valley Conduit’s construction for access to clean drinking water — they’ve been waiting long enough,” Udall said.

U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton and Cory Gardner, both Colorado Republicans, also support the conduit and applauded the news.

“This completion of the Arkansas Valley Conduit will ensure the continued delivery of clean drinking water to families, agriculture producers and municipalities throughout Southeastern Colorado,” Tipton said.

The $400 million conduit is in its early stages, having gained approval last year from Reclamation for the 120-mile route from Pueblo Dam to Lamar and Eads.

It would serve 50,000 people in 40 communities by providing filtered drinking water. Most of the communities along the route rely on wells and many of them are facing water quality compliance issues that could force more expensive alternatives to the conduit.

“The support we have gotten from Congress, Gov. John Hickenlooper and James Eklund of the Colorado Water Conservation Board has been tremendous,” said Jim Broderick, executive director of the Southeastern district. “This will allow us to move the project forward as was intended more than 50 years ago.”

Hickenlooper praised the decision: “We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support Southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition.”

From Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today released the following statement on the Bureau of Reclamation’s decision to redirect $2 million to fund the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

“The Arkansas Valley Conduit will serve 50,000 people in more than 40 communities in southeastern Colorado. We commend the Bureau of Reclamation for prioritizing this project and thank the leadership of the Department of the Interior, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, as well our congressional delegation for ongoing efforts to deliver funding for this critical project. We have worked closely with all parties to stress the need for this conduit and will continue to support southeastern and local government in the hard work to bring this project to fruition,” Hickenlooper said.

The conduit, a water pipeline originally envisioned as part of the federal Fry-Ark Project legislation in 1962, will assist communities experiencing high water treatment costs by providing water from Pueblo Reservoir. The latest funding will assist with preconstruction costs associated with the 130-mile project.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit coverage here and here.


Many eyes are on Lake Powell and the power pool #ColoradoRiver

August 12, 2014
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s a look at the Lake Powell power pool and the cascading effects if the reservoir drops below the level necessary to continue to deliver power to the southwestern US, from Allen Best writing in The Denver Post:

Colorado water leaders used a curious approach last week in announcing a new water conservation program involving the Colorado River. They talked about electricity and the effect of spiking prices on corn farmers in eastern Colorado, ski area operators on the Western Slope, and cities along the Front Range.

The scenario? A Lake Powell receding to what is called a minimum power pool, leaving too little water to generate electricity. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates the reservoir, is responsible for 81 percent of the power produced by a series of giant dams on the Colorado River and its tributaries, including those on the Gunnison River. This electricity is distributed by the Western Area Power Administration to 5.8 million people in Colorado, Arizona and other states.

Should this power supply be interrupted, WAPA would make good on its contracts with local utilities by buying power in the spot market, such as from gas-fired power plants. But extended drought on the Colorado would certainly increase prices to reflect the higher costs of replacement by other sources.

Hydropower is far cheaper than renewables but also fossil fuels. Rural electrical cooperatives get nearly half the production, followed closely by municipalities, including Colorado Springs, Delta and Sterling, plus Longmont, Loveland, Estes Park and Fort Collins.

Right now, WAPA is selling the energy from Glen Canyon and the other dams at $12.19 per megawatt-hour with a separate charge for transmission. Just how much prices would increase in event of prolonged interruption is speculative. The same agency, however is shoring up August deliveries with purchases of power from other sources at $55 per megawatt-hour, according to Jeffrey W. Ackerman, the Montrose-based manager of WAPA’s Colorado River Supply Project’s Energy Management Office.

This illustrates the bone-on-bone relationship between energy production and water during time of drought.

Yet the broader story about the Colorado River is about a narrowing razor’s edge between supply and demand. There’s no crisis, but water officials are planning for one. A healthy snowpack in Colorado last winter helped, but did not solve problems. The basin as a whole was still below average, as it has been 11 of the last 14 years.

“As leaders, we simply cannot wait for a crisis to happen before we come together to figure out how to address it,” said Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water. “That would be irresponsible.”

Denver Water and providers in Arizona, Nevada and California, plus the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, are pooling $11 million to launch a demand-management program. Utilities such as Xcel Energy have similar programs, offering to pay customers willing to suspend use of air conditioners for a couple hours on hot summer afternoons.

In this case, $2.5 million is being allocated to fund programs that would yield reduced demands in Colorado and other states upstream of Lake Powell. The obvious idea is fallowing of crops, such as a hay meadow, with the irrigator to be reimbursed. But Lochhead stresses that it’s a blank chalkboard. The intent is to solicit ideas and then “demonstrate effective demand-management techniques.”

“It’s not something we expect to do. It’s not something we want to do, but if the drought continues, we want to be ready,” says John McClow, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The bulk of the $11 million will be allocated to demand-management programs in the lower-basin states.

Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment, sees the agreement as representative of broad shift in states sharing water from the Colorado River. “In the past, they could get together to build things such as dams. Now, they are teaming up to save water,” he says. “That’s a paradigm shift.”

An effort involving The Nature Conservancy and water agencies based in Durango and Glenwood Springs has been underway for five years. That parallel effort, however, is driven by a different trigger: the prospect of a compact curtailment or “call.” The 1922 Colorado River Compact requires Colorado and the other upper-basin states — Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — to deliver an average 75 million acre-feet over any given 10-year period.

Upper basin states at this point have a cushion of 15 million acre-feet, or two years’ supply. Yet abundant snowfall last year in Colorado only slightly filled Lake Powell. One relatively good year does not compensate for several bad ones.

Always hovering in the background is the prospect of even worse. Tree rings from across the River Basin provide clear evidence of longer, more intense droughts 800 to 900 years ago. An additional layer is the prospect of higher temperatures caused by global warming.

Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District, acknowledges a growing sense of urgency. “We could be back in a near-crisis or crisis situation in as little two or three years,” he says. And for water planners, who typically try to think decades ahead, that’s a current event, he adds. [ed. emphasis mine]

How likely is this dead pool? U.S. Bureau of Reclamation modelers in April found a 4 percent chance of a minimum power pool in 2018 and a 6 percent in 2019. The models are based on recorded hydrology of the last 105 years.

What if Powell does decline and electricity cannot be generated? It depends upon how long the shortage lasts. A longer outage would affect electrical consumers from Arizona to Nebraska. “We’re struggling to quantify the impact,” says Andrew Colismo, government affairs manager for Colorado Springs Utility.

Tri-State is the single largest consumer, purchasing 28 percent of all power produced in 2012 from the dams. It sells this power to 44 member co-operatives in a four-state region, including those who sell to irrigators in eastern Colorado.

Irrigation is a huge consumer of cheap power. In northeastern Colorado, Holyoke-based Highline Electric meets demand that ranges from a low of 25 megawatts to a high of 190 megawatts, the latter occurring when irrigation pumps are drawing water from the Ogallala aquifer to spread across 123-acre circles of corn, beans and other crops. Some large irrigators pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in electrical costs, says general manager Mark Farnsworth.

The irony is that if a drought occurs accompanied by heat, as is usually the case, irrigators will probably pump more water and air conditioners will work even harder. Power demands will rise as water levels drop.

Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey says existing rate structures anticipate both droughts and heavy precipitation.

Lochhead and others also point to other ripples from interrupted power sales. Revenues from hydroelectric sales, which were $198 million last year, are used for a great many programs: selenium control in the Delta-Montrose area, work to maintain ecosystem integrity downstream from Glen Canyon and ongoing efforts to preserve four endangered fish species in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

On Wednesday, Lochhead met with an interim legislative water committee at the Colorado Capitol to report about the new agreement. The testimony all day had been about potential measures to expand water conservation as Colorado tries to figure out how to accommodate a population expected to double from today’s 5.3 million residents to 10 million people by mid-century without drying up rivers and farms.

Denver Water already serves 1.3 million, but gets about half of its water from the Western Slope. “We have a vested interest” in the Colorado River, Lochhead told legislators.

One outstanding question is whether Denver and other water providers on the High Plains should try to be able to get additional water from new or expanded transmountain diversions.

With this story from Lake Powell, the take-home message is don’t count on it.

Allen Best writes frequently for The Post about water and energy and also publishes an online news magazine, found at http://mountaintownnews.net.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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