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.


“We’re all in this together” — Anne Castle #businessofwater #ColoradoRiver

September 1, 2014

From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via the Casper Star-Tribune:

A top federal water administrator said Friday that several myths stand in the way of broad agreements needed to deal with increasing demand for water in the drought-stricken and overallocated Colorado River basin. Assistant Secretary of the Interior Anne Castle told listeners at the Business of Water conference (#businessofwater in Las Vegas that there’s no one-step way to avoid the possibility of cuts in water deliveries in the next few years to states including Arizona and Nevada. With the crucial Lake Mead reservoir at 38 percent capacity and the Southwest in the grip of the driest 15-year period in more than a century, Castle said it will take multiple, incremental agreements to balance the water rights of cities, farmers, Indian tribes and states.

“Compromise is the only way we’re going to get ourselves out of this drought,” she said. “This is difficult state politics.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Businesses can use their relationships and economic clout to require responsible water behavior, she added.

Castle is a top water administrator in the agency that oversees the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls dams and canals serving the region, which is home to 40 million people and has 4 million acres of farmland…

Most people understand there is a drought, Castle said. But most don’t understand the interwoven nature of water rights.

Farmers get first dibs on most of the water harnessed by the more than 100 dams in the basin, under agreements dating back to the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Since that time, cities such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas have grown rapidly.

Some 16.5 million acre-feet of water is promised to the various entities. But Castle noted that’s more than the river system’s annual intake of some 15 million acre-feet of rainfall and snowmelt, an amount that has been declining during drought years…

Castle said that combined water storage in dams on the Colorado River is about 60 million acre-feet. That amount has been drawn down from full in 2000 to about 51 percent today, at 30.4 million acre-feet.

Castle said other myths are that cities just need to stop wasting water on fountains, golf courses and swimming pools, and that water is too valuable to use on farms.

Cities in the Southwest are actually models in water efficiency, reuse and conservation, Castle said. And cutting water to farms in areas such as the Imperial Valley of California would cripple vegetable and fruit production and hurt an economy that she called the foundation of the basin.

States alone won’t be able to deal with shortages, she said.

“Myths can be dangerous. They allow us to slip into complacency,” she said. “We’re all in this together.”

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, also was set to speak Friday at the conference, which was held at the Springs Preserve by Colorado-based Protect the Flows and Nuestro Rio, an organization of Latino elected officials in several Southwest states.

The two-day conference drew more than 100 corporations, Main Street businesses, municipal water agencies and business associations, organizers said.

John Fleck’s presentation is called “Sharing Water: What an Environmental Experiment in Mexico can Teach us About the Future of the Colorado River”. He introduces his topic over at Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

I’m excited to be giving a talk on the Colorado River Delta environmental pulse flow Sept. 8 at Colorado College in Colorado Springs…

The pulse flow last spring – a first-ever release of water down the desiccated Colorado River Delta’s main channel solely for environmental purposes – was a powerful symbol. For that reason alone, it was insanely cool, and it’s easy to explain and share the excitement. In a place where a river used to go to die, the Río Colorado came back to life. I’ll have pretty pictures of water flowing across a dry landscape.

But there’s something more obscure but also, I think, far more important that happened that’s proving much more difficult to articulate. At the risk of driving too fast and getting out in front of my headlights, I’m going to try to explain the nature and importance of the “social capital” that made this happen, and why I think the notion of social capital is critical to whether we succeed or fail in making a go of it as a society dependent on the increasingly scarce water of the Colorado River.

It’s illustrative of the problem that I have a hard time offering up a crisp definition of “social capital”, but here’s one I cribbed from someone else:

Social capital refers to the institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions.

Some years ago, I heard a talk by former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Bob Johnson about his efforts to mediate water battles in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins in the southeastern United States. He was dispatched by his federal bosses to try to help with the problems because of his experience overseeing interstate water management in the Colorado River basin. Here’s how I described the problem:

The ACT and ACF basins have far more unallocated water to play with in sorting out the conflicts. “They’ve got 60 million acre feet of excess water,” he said. “On the Colorado River, we’ve got zero.”

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

Upper Basin States vs. Lower Basin circa 1925 via CSU Water Resources Archives

But as a direct result of that lack of water on the Colorado, we’ve got a rich legal framework – the Law of the River – and accompanying personal and institutional relationships to go with it. “We have 80 [ed. now 97 years] years of fighting and working together,” Johnson said to the audience of Colorado River Basin water officials. [ed. emphasis mine]

By comparison, in the wet climate of the southeast, water officials had few relationships with their colleagues in other states, and few institutional structures through which they could deal with problems when they arose, Johnson argued. In other words, they have plenty of water, but lack the tools they need to approach the problem of sharing. Because they’ve never had to think of it that way.

Their problem was a lack of social capital, not a lack of water. And, as Elinor Ostrom pointed out:

[S]ocial capital is hard to construct through external interventions.

Minute 319, the U.S.-Mexico agreement that made the pulse flow happen, provides a window into this “social capital” in action. It involves:

  • institutions: U.S. and Mexican governments and the agencies within them, water management agencies on both sides of the border, environmental groups, research universities and end water users
  • relationships: Individuals representing these institutions who know one another in a web that has, over time, become invested with a significant reservoir of trust, even as each is representing their own community’s interests as best they. These relationships embody a significant shared understanding of the Colorado River Basin’s problems and the range of solutions that might be possible, and who might suffer and/or benefit from those solutions.
  • rules: A Byzantine array of compacts, treaties, laws and also more subtle norms that govern how all these institutions and people move water around the Colorado River system in a way that is intended to maximize some sort of ill-defined, constantly evolving utility.
  • All that combined in a deal that had something for everyone: money to upgrade Mexican irrigation infrastructure, water storage facilities for Mexico, conserved water for U.S. cities, an expanded understanding of the sharing of shortages for Mexico and the United States, and oh, by the way, a bit of water for the environment.

    My shorthand for this, and the title of a seminar I’m giving Sept. 26 at UNM’s economics department, is “Solving the West’s water problems in a hotel bar”. The “hotel bar” thing is schtick, but has some substance behind it. The idea is people sitting around after a day of meetings wrestling with the problems, people who know one another’s desires, interests and needs, and saying, “Wait! What if we try doing it this way?” [ed. emphasis mine]

    The hotel bar stuff is very much necessary for dealing with Colorado River water problems going forward. But is it sufficient?

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    BLM okays Gore Canyon whitewater park

    August 31, 2014

    Colorado River in Gore Canyon

    Colorado River in Gore Canyon


    From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

    From above and below, it’s easy to imagine how the rapids known as “Fisherman’s Nightmare” got their nickname. The chaotic jumble of rocks and water (also known as “Applesauce”) that serves as sentinel to the Colorado River’s Gore Canyon drops precipitously from the placid, pastoral flats surrounding the Blue River confluence at Kremmling and marks the start of the steepest and most technically challenging whitewater of the entire Colorado River. An unwary angler drifting into the Class V canyon can expect a frightening wake-up call.

    Beneath soaring cliffs up to 1,000 feet tall, the river’s gradient shifts radically from a flatwater nature float to an adrenaline-soaked plummet of some 115 feet per mile over the next 4 miles.

    It’s a little-known secret that the remote ravine shrouds some of finest fishing along the Upper Colorado, since access is largely limited to the region’s most skilled whitewater boaters. But those in the know will occasionally make their way upstream along a rugged foot path that begins at the Bureau of Land Management’s Pumphouse Recreation Site at the southern edge of Gore Canyon and eventually fades away entirely.

    The popular fishing and floating stretch downstream from the Pumphouse boat ramp is known to boast some of the highest fish statistics throughout the river originating in Rocky Mountain National Park, measuring more than 3,500 trout per mile between Pumphouse and the Radium boat ramp 4 miles downstream. While the wild character of the upstream canyon doesn’t lend itself to scientific fish counts, anecdotal evidence suggests that the fish lurking in deep pools below Gore’s steep drops have grown larger and face far less angling pressure than their downstream counterparts.

    “I’ve got a photo of the mythological beast that lives below Tunnel Falls (the biggest drop in the canyon) we named ‘General Sherman’ hanging in my garage. He’s just a big, thick, brown trout,” said Ken Hoeve, a Reddington team angler and former pro kayaker who fishes Gore Canyon regularly. “There really are some brutes that live in there, and they’re not very smart because nobody ever fishes for them.”

    That’s not to say the fish are entirely devoid of pressures, however.

    For two years running now, the Upper Colorado River Basin has earned prominent rankings among the annual ” America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report published by the conservation organization American Rivers. Due to the combined effects of drought, overallocation and transmountain water diversions to meet growing Front Range demand, the Upper Colorado was named the nation’s most endangered river in 2013 and was second only to California’s San Joaquin River this year.

    “The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Carbondale resident Ken Neubecker of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”

    A basin-wide drought now measuring 14 years has been exacerbated by increasing municipal, agricultural and industrial demands, all of which has led to the lowest 14-year inflow to Lake Powell since the downstream reservoir began filling in 1963.

    American Rivers has seen support from conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club and Conservation Colorado, among others, attempting to implement measures to maintain critical river flows for fish, wildlife and recreation in the upper basin. Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District are proposing significant increases in the amount of water pumped from Colorado River headwaters across the Continental Divide through Moffat Tunnel and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project at Windy Gap.

    Denver Water’s Moffat collection system expansion ultimately spawned the 2012 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, heralded as a new vision for cooperative water management between stakeholders on both sides of the Divide. Denver Water also entered into an agreement last spring with Trout Unlimited and Grand County known as the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan (MECP) for the proposed Moffat expansion that stakeholders believe can balance municipal needs and environmental health of Colorado River headwaters should it be included in the final federal permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

    More recently, the Upper Colorado benefited from another layer of protection when the BLM signed a Decision Record on Aug. 15 authorizing the proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at Pumphouse Recreation Site. Grand County applied to build a riverwide wave feature for recreational use near the boat launch area and was awarded historic water rights for constructing the water park. Construction is scheduled to begin in November.

    “The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000 to 70,000 people that visit the area each year,” said BLM Kremmling field manager Stephanie Odell. “It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational float-boating.”

    “This area has the potential to be ‘loved to death.’ We are close,” said Thomas Schneider, the owner of Sunrise Anglers fishing guide service in Littleton. “My clients love the remoteness at Pumphouse. It’s such a unique place. Will the added pressure from folks be a detriment to the environs?”

    Others see it as a dream come true.

    “These whitewater parks work. Not only do they create the best habitat for kayakers and paddlers, but also for the fish that benefit from aerated water and big pools,” Hoeve said. “It’s not like we’re diverting the water. It’s like, ‘Hey, while it runs through here, we’re going to do something good with it that encourages people to come here and fish and paddle.’ It’s another reason to keep water in the river.”

    More whitewater coverage here.


    Study: Southwest may face ‘megadrought’ within century

    August 31, 2014

    desertcowskull

    From the Cornell Chronicle (Blaine Friedlander):

    Due to global warming, scientists say, the chances of the southwestern United States experiencing a decadelong drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a “megadrought” – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century.

    The study by Cornell, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will be published in a forthcoming issue of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.

    “For the southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real megadroughts,” said Toby Ault, Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and lead author of the paper. “As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere – and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for megadrought.”

    As of Aug. 12, most of California sits in a D4 “exceptional drought,” which is in the most severe category. Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas loiter in a substantially less severe D1 moderate drought. Ault says climatologists don’t know whether the severe western and southwestern drought will continue, but “with ongoing climate change, this is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future,” he said.

    While the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest lasted four to eight years, depending upon location, a megadrought can last more than three decades, which could lead to mass population migration on a scale never before seen in this country.

    Ault said that the West and Southwest must look for mitigation strategies to cope with looming long-drought scenarios. “This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region,” he said.

    In computer models, while the southern portions of the western United States (California, Arizona, New Mexico) will likely face drought, the researchers show the chances for drought in the northwestern states (Washington, Montana, Idaho) may decrease.

    Prolonged droughts around the world have occurred throughout history. Ault points to the recent “Big Dry” in Australia and modern-era drought in sub-Saharan Africa. As evidenced by tree-ring studies, a megadrought occurred during the 1150s along the Colorado River. In natural history, they occur every 400 to 600 years. But by adding the influence of growing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the drought models – and their underlying statistics – are now in a state of flux.

    Beyond the United States, southern Africa, Australia and the Amazon basin are also vulnerable to the possibility of a megadrought. With increases in temperatures, drought severity likely will worsen, “implying that our results should be viewed as conservative,” the study reports.

    The study, “Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data,” was also co-authored by Julia E. Cole, David M. Meko and Jonathan T. Overpeck of University of Arizona; and Gregory T. Pederson of the U.S. Geological Survey. The National Science Foundation, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funded the research.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Las Vegas: Twitter is the main outlet for news from the #businessofwater conference, so far #ColoradoRiver

    August 30, 2014
    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

    Newspaper coverage of the conference is pretty light so far. Click here to view the Twitter stream (https://twitter.com/search?q=%23businessofwater&src=tyah) from the conference. Crowd-sourced citizen journalism at its best.

    Here’s some video from KTNV:

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Aug. 27, CBT Project was at its highest level in history for that date — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

    August 29, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Hank Shell):

    On Aug. 27, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project was at its highest level in history for that date, said Brian Werner with Northern Water. Lake Granby was at its second highest level for Aug. 27, only beaten by Aug. 27, 1984.

    “I tell people ‘you cant give away water this year,’” Werner said.

    Looking at rainfall in Grand County, this year’s precipitation is somewhat deceiving. Precipitation is still below that for a normal year to date for Grand County, according to Accessweather Inc. Historically, the county has had around 7.78 inches of precipitation by this time in a normal year, though this year it has only seen about 5.58 inches.

    So what’s keeping Lake Granby so full? For the answer, one needs to look across the Continental Divide.

    Lake Granby, as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, is actually a reservoir for Front Range water users. Water is pumped through Lake Granby, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake, where it flows through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel to Estes Park.

    This year, an unusually wet summer on the east side of the Divide has kept Front Range reservoirs full, leaving little recourse for water in Lake Granby. Couple that with increased snowpack on the West Slope and a clarity study that has kept flows through Alva B. Adams tunnel minimal, and what’s left is a swollen lake Granby, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

    “We’ve run the East Slope of the Colorado Big Thomson Project largely on East Slope water most of the year,” Lamb said.

    Lamb said she wasn’t sure, but she didn’t believe the Alva B. Adams Tunnel had been run at its full capacity of 550 cubic feet per second at all this year.

    Gasner said the last year he could remember Lake Granby being at a comparable level at this time was 2011, but Lamb confirmed that there’s more water in the reservoir this year.

    “Even though we were spilling in 2011 at this time, the volume of water is actually higher in this year than it was in 2011,” Lamb said.

    Because of the way the spill gates at Lake Granby are situated, the lake can spill even at lower water levels.

    Strong monsoon season

    Earlier this summer, weather forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder believed a strong El Niño was in the works, meaning a wetter summer and drier winter for the Grand County area.

    Surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that are sustained above average, commonly referred to as an El Niño event, can have strong effects on weather patterns in Colorado.

    Though climate models have changed and a strong El Niño is less certain, climate forecasters still saw an above average monsoon season across the Front Range, said Todd Dankers, a forecaster with NOAA in Boulder.

    “We’ve had one of these better monsoon type seasons here for the summer,” Danker said. “We’ve been picking up good amounts of rain, and you can’t really pin that on El Niño.”

    Dankers said surface temperatures in the Pacific haven’t been following through the model of a strong El Niño that climate models predicted at the beginning of the summer.

    Rather, they’ve been dropping toward normal in recent months.

    “We were thinking this pattern we’re in now, it’s been able to tap into a little bit of Hurricane Maria,” Dankers said. “That is contributing some moisture to the showers that we’re going to see.”

    Some of the monsoon moisture coming into Colorado has also come from the subtropical Pacific, he said.

    “It’s kind of the best monsoon pattern that we’ve seen in the last few years,” he said.

    Winter outlook

    Though forecasters have been able to pin recent moisture to events in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, looking farther out, the view becomes much less clear.

    A strong El Niño is still possible, Dankers said, which could mean a drier winter in the mountains.

    Though right now, the outlook for the mountains is “unsettled,” with the possibility of drier weather moving into the Front Range.

    “These long-term ridges and troughs shift every six or eight weeks,” Dankers said. “In the next week or two, we may see a big shift to a drier, warmer pattern that could persist for another five or six weeks.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Ute Water receives the “10 Year Directors Award of Recognition” from the Partnership for Safe Water

    August 29, 2014

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