Aspinall Unit operations update: 1,000 cfs in Black Canyon

July 29, 2014

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced from 2000 cfs to 1900 cfs on Monday, July 28th at 10:00 AM. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1500 cfs. The weather forecast calls for rain in the basin over the next few days and the river forecast shows flows continuing to increase during this time.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the flow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1500 cfs for August.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 1100 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 1000 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 900 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


“It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing” — Dennis Davidson #COWaterPlan

July 29, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Agricultural interests are expressing concerns that the draft Colorado River Basin plan that will be part of a broader statewide water plan is lacking in explaining the importance of water needs for farming and ranching in the region, and especially the Roaring Fork Valley.

“There are over 30,000 acres of land irrigated in the Roaring Fork River [watershed], with over 1,100 active irrigation diversions and over 800 diversions of water out of the main rivers and other smaller tributaries,” the Mount Sopris Conservation District board states in a recent letter to Colorado Basin Roundtable Chairman Jim Pokrandt. “Most of these are for use on agriculture lands to produce hay and pasture.”

Yet, in reviewing the latest revisions to the draft basin plan that were released earlier this month, much of the agricultural input that has been provided during the planning effort is “notably absent,” especially as it relates to the Roaring Fork Valley, the district’s letter states.

Preservation of agriculture is one of the six key themes included in the basin plan, which is still being revised and will continue to be for the better part of the next nine months.

“It did open some eyes that agriculture is listed as being important in the [larger] basin, but not in the Roaring Fork,” rancher Jeff Nieslanik, who chairs the Mount Sopris District board, said at the Monday meeting of the basin roundtable in Glenwood Springs.

“We are in decreasing ag, but it is still going,” he said, adding the importance of food production within the Roaring Fork watershed should be better spelled out in the plan.

That should include some mention of specific projects that are being done to repair and bring efficiencies to agriculture irrigation infrastructure in the region, he said.

Agriculture water use was the focus of the regular monthly meeting of the basin roundtable, as it works to refine the basin plan and make sure Colorado River interests are reflected in the state plan that is due out next year.

“Ag is going to have a target on its back, because it does own a lot of the older water rights in the state,” said roundtable member Kim Albertson, who has ranching interests in Garfield, Eagle and Mesa counties.

That includes not only farm-to-market operations, but “production agriculture,” which exports a large percentage of its product outside the state, he said.

Agriculture accounts for 85 percent of water use in the state, meaning farmers and ranchers are coming under pressure to bring better efficiencies to their irrigation practices. But a significant portion of that water use is “non-consumptive,” meaning much of the water eventually makes its way back into the river system after it is used to irrigate crops. That should somehow be quantified in the basin plan, said several of those attending the Monday meeting who represented various agricultural interests.

When it comes to preserving agriculture within the water plan, it’s not just about protecting farms and ranches, it’s about food, said Dennis Davidson, irrigation water management specialist for the Mount Sopris, Bookcliff and Southside USDA conservation districts.

“As consumers we’re all as guilty of using this water as anyone,” Davidson said. “It’s not agriculture, it’s food production that you’re losing.”

Another concern being expressed in the statewide effort to draft a water plan is the practice of “buy-and-dry,” where ag lands and their accompanying water rights are bought up by nonagricultural interests, such as for residential or energy development, and taken out of production.

While ag lands on the eastern plains are a big target for metro area water interests, the same market pressures exist on the Western Slope, pointed out Martha Cochran, director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, which works with agricultural land owners to place conservation easements on their land to protect it from non-ag-related development.

“We do need to balance out those market forces, when we’re trying to sustain agriculture and you have entities trying to buy [their water],” she said. “Either they are going to buy it, or we need to buy it.”

Louis Meyer of SGM Engineers, which is in charge of writing the basin plan, said the Colorado Basin is not alone in its struggle with how to preserve agricultural interests without infringing on private property rights.

He said his team will review the input received from agricultural users as the plan is revised. “But you have to be specific” when it comes to mention of projects and their relation to the goals of the basin plan, he added.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

July 28, 2014
Groundwater movement via the USGS

Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

While water levels at lakes Mead and Powell have visibly slipped in the current drought, another source, groundwater, is disappearing even more rapidly, according to a satellite study of the Colorado River Basin.

A University of California, Irvine, study posted on the website of the American Geophysical Union said that the three-quarters of the water lost in the basin was drawn from groundwater and noted that the extent of groundwater loss “may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.”

But for some water produced far below the surface in drilling for natural gas and oil, there is no groundwater production on the West Slope, said Jim Pokrandt, who chairs the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

Other water production from the ground taps return flows making their way to creeks and rivers, Pokrandt said.

What is at issue in the loss of groundwater is the unregulated tapping of groundwater in California, said Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

California groundwater “is completely unregulated,” Treese said. “So when drought hits, they turn on the pumps.”

Researchers said they were surprised by the extent to which groundwater appeared to be affected.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, lead author of the study. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

The Colorado River, which serves some 40 million people, supplies water to the Colorado Front Range, as well as the populous cities of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Those lower basin states appear to be on their own, for the moment, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District.

The upper basin of the Colorado is ahead of its requirement to deliver 75 million acre feet of water to the lower basin over 10 years, “so I don’t think they can come back on us” for more water, Clever said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there is water in the river to be diverted to the Front Range, Clever said.

“The key issue in this thing is that Powell is going down and there is no water to send to the East Slope.”

Lake Powell’s levels are low enough that water managers are concerned that the lake might be unable to generate electricity, a significant factor in deciding how the river will be managed.

The research was led by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists, who used satellite data to gauge changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin that are related to changes in water on and below the surface.

In the period from December 2004 to November 2013, the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet of fresh water.

About 41 million acre feet of the loss came from groundwater.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Grand Valley: It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion August 4 #ColoradoRiver

July 28, 2014
Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

Grand Valley Irrigation Ditch

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

A climate change panel discussion set for Aug. 4 at Mesa County Central Library features local experts who will chew over the impact of climate change on the Grand Valley.

The two-hour talk begins at 5:30 p.m.

The panel, titled “It’s Our Food, Forests, and Water: A Climate Change Discussion,” will cover topics such as geology, water and agriculture, library spokesman Bob Kretschman said.

Panelists include:

■ Jay Scheevel, a geologist;

■ Gigi A. Richard, faculty director of the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University;

■ Jerry Nelson, agricultural economist and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign;

■ Chris Jauhola, who worked on wildlife and forest health issues for the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Scheevel will explain carbon, its uses and impacts. He is the founder and president of Scheevel Geo Technologies, a consulting company that works with Matrix Oil Corp., which is based in Santa Barbara, California.

Richard will look at the implications of climate change on Colorado’s water resources. She teaches several relevant courses at CMU, including “Natural Hazards and Environmental Geology.”

Jauhola will focus on climate change and forest health.

The event, sponsored by Conservation Colorado, Mesa County Libraries and the John McConnell Math and Science Center, is free and open to the public.


West’s water worries rise as Lake Mead falls — USA Today #ColoradoRiver

July 27, 2014
Receding Lake Mead (2010)

Receding Lake Mead (2010)

From USA Today (William M. Welch):

“I hate to see it,” [Allen Keeten] the 58-year-old truck driver from Kenesaw, Neb., says, peering over the side of the massive concrete dam on the Colorado River. “Nowadays you’ve got to be careful when you are out on a boat because of all the exposed ground.”

Like a giant measuring stick in the desert, the dropping water level of Lake Mead, the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, provides a vivid representation of the drought that is gripping the Southwest and much of the West…

Only a fraction of the river’s flow makes it to Mexico as millions of acre-feet leave the Colorado River system through pipes and aqueducts for use by farms, businesses and homes of the southwestern United States — the water rights apportioned by decades of court cases, contracts and legislation.

Now that measuring stick is drier than ever. Federal water managers say Lake Mead is just 39% full. The water level fell in July to its lowest level since 1937, when water began backing up to form Lake Mead after the dam was completed…

As the water recedes, left behind is a broad white stripe of mineral deposits on the lake’s shoreline, as visible as a dirty bathtub ring. New islands poke through the lake’s lowered surface, and buoys stand amid desert scrub.

Entire coves and miles of lake fingers have dried up, forcing boat landings and marinas to close or relocate. Marina operators who want to stay in business have had to move their floating docks — and the fuel, electricity, water and sewer lines that serve them — in a costly chase to stay on the water…

Lake Powell is down, too, though not as badly at 52% of capacity. The entire Colorado River system of four impoundments, ending with Lake Havasu in Arizona, has just over half the water it is capable of holding this summer.

Still, federal water managers are optimistic that they can avoid reducing agreed-upon amounts of water to all who depend on it, at least until next year. Beyond that, much depends on how long drought continues…

Water from the Colorado River makes up about a quarter of all water that flows from Southern California taps, and water from the Sierras makes up about 30%, with the remainder coming from local sources, groundwater and reclaimed water…

An especially wet winter would help. A big snowpack in 2011 raised Lake Mead nearly 50 feet in one season.

“We need several above-average years to replenish the storage,” Bunk says.

But the trends are worrisome. While California is in the third year of drought, Bunk says Colorado River data suggests this is the 15th year of a broader regional drought, interrupted by an occasional wet year.

Scientists studying tree rings for clues to past water seasons calculate that the period since 2000 is one of the driest in centuries. Bunk says the evidence shows the past 15-year period ranks in the driest 1% of the past 1,200 years.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Tour highlights Smart Ditch, hydro-power and organic farming — Glenwood Springs Post Independent

July 27, 2014

smartditchtrapezoidalditchliner

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Amy Hadden Marsh):

[Mike Kishimoto], a civil engineer for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which cosponsored the tour, told over two dozen participants that Smart Ditch is basically a corrugated plastic liner that stops leaks and allows water to flow through a ditch unimpeded by plants, rocks, sediment and other debris. He said this particular segment, part of a county road project south of Silt, captures tail water from sprinkler irrigation and brings it back to the fields.

“You can’t get tail water to go into a pipe,” he explained. “So this is a perfect use for Smart Ditch.”

The Smart Ditch demo was part of a five-hour tour, which began with a stop at the 3,200-acre Porter Ranch, along Alkali Creek south of New Castle, and ended at Eagle Springs Organic Farm south of Rifle.

Kishimoto and other district staff and board members joined the tour to point out various projects and answer questions about the district’s mission, services and history…

Colorado State Rep. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale), was a tour participant, along with Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. Rankin took particular interest in a small-scale, hydro-power generator at the Porter Ranch, which produces six kilowatts of electricity. Water comes from Alkali Creek through a 7,000-foot pipe.

A small, metal wheel acts as a turbine. As the water turns the wheel, electricity is generated, which powers Terry and Mary Porter’s home and a nearby cabin. Excess electricity is sold to Holy Cross Energy. The water is reused for irrigation.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service designed the irrigation system with the hydro-power generator in mind, aid Scot Knutson, an engineer with the agency. Funding for the project came from the conservation service and the federal Environmental Quality Incentive Program, which pays incentives for conservation practices.

“There are approximately 100 small-scale hydro-power projects statewide and a dozen in [House District 57],” said Rankin.

He also praised U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s Hydro-power and Rural Jobs Act, which went into effect last summer.

“Tipton simplified Congressional approval for small-scale hydro-power,” he said. “In my view, it’s a great, untapped source for renewable energy.”

Eagle Springs Organic farm, the final stop of the tour, generates its own power from a solar array that offsets all electricity used on the 1,600-acre farm.

Owner Ken Sack led guests through a two-acre complex of production rooms, coolers and greenhouses, including a tropical grow room, replete with banana, fig and citrus trees, and a fish farm. Sack, whose wife and children are vegan, raises Highland Angus beef, sheep, goats, poultry and pigs on the property, along with vegetables, herbs, flowers and hay. All food products are sold at the farm’s store or served at the café and steak house in Rifle.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Telluride: Pandora raw water and treated water project is moving along nicely

July 27, 2014
Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

The Pandora water treatment project at the east end of the valley is on schedule and should be complete by this fall, ending more than three years of construction.

The project, which fired up in 2011, has been in the works for more than 20 years, and it will pipe water from Upper Bridal Veil Basin to a new treatment facility at the east end of the box canyon. And while there have been many hurdles, including engineering challenges and budgetary issues, the project should be complete by October and stay within the town’s 2014 budget, according to Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud.

“We keep making progress on the building and the water plant itself,” Rudd said. “The building is almost completed. We’re just outfitting the internals. There are aspects of the project that are done. We’ve tied in both the raw waterline coming in from Bridal Veil [Falls] and the treated line that’s going towards town, into the plant.”

Ruud said crews are also working on a physical water diversion out of Bridal Veil Creek as well as a number of other components involved with the diversion. If things go as planned, the plant will go online in early October.

“We haven’t really had any issues,” Ruud said. “We did have fairly substantial soil stabilization right at the treatment plant. That ended up being quite a substantial undertaking. But as of right now we are within the approved budget for this year and we expect the project will be completed with our existing budget.”

The facility will also contain a micro-hydro component that is expected to be operational when the plant goes live, which will boost the town’s generation of renewable energy. But the main purpose of the plant is to boost the town’s water capacity. Telluride’s current system, which relies primarily on the Mill Creek Water Plant, has been strained by high demand and other issues in recent years.

Rudd said construction has been making good progress this summer. With the good weather there have been a lot of people in the area going up to Bridal Veil Falls. But disturbances from construction are nearing an end.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


“When you’re at a spring, all your senses are awake” — Cynthia Valle #ColoradoRiver

July 26, 2014


Before there was plumbing there was a pancake-powered donkey — The Fairplay Flume #ColoradoRiver

July 26, 2014
Brighty the pancake-loving donkey:  Bobby McKee rides his trusty partner, Brighty, while fetching water for residents at the Wylie Way camp in the Grand Canyon in 1918. (Photo courtesy of Marth Krueger)

Brighty the pancake-loving donkey: Bobby McKee rides his trusty partner, Brighty, while fetching water for residents at the Wylie Way camp in the Grand Canyon in 1918. (Photo courtesy of Marth Krueger)

From The Fairplay Flume:

In honor of Park County’s upcoming famous festival, Burro Days, Pine resident Martha McKee Krueger shared a story with The Flume about her father, and a donkey.

In 1917, Krueger’s father, Robert “Bobby” McKee, with his parents, founded the first tourist lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at Bright Angel Point called the Wylie Way.

Burros held a very important job at this lodge. They were responsible for carrying water. In the summer of 1918, Bobby found Brighty; not only a hearty work donkey, but also a friend.

Every morning, Brighty would show up at the back of the kitchen ready for work, and of course, pancakes. Following breakfast, Bobby and his burro would ride down to a spring about half a mile west of Wylie Way, dropping 200 feet in elevation. At the spring, Bobby would fill two five-gallon buckets, and load them up in Brighty’s canvas bags, and head back up. Though, within the next two summers, Brighty’s load increased to two ten-gallon Ford gas tanks. When they were full, they weighed just under two hundred pounds.

It is unknown how many years Brighty was of service to Bobby and the Wylie Way camp but in “The McKee Family Collection,” a book of memoirs by Bobby in 1989, it is written that every spring someone would encourage Brighty to come up from the canyon and was there when the McKees arrived.

“He simply came with the territory,” wrote the author.

Bobby and his incredible burro would make four to seven trips a day. Through all this, Brighty carried on, always looking forward to a pancake reward at the end of each load.


Brett Walton: Want a thesaurus of gloom? Ask a California water manager what 2015 is like if there’s another dry winter #ColoradoRiver

July 26, 2014
California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014

California Drought Monitor July 22, 2014


Op-Ed: Happy Birthday, Colorado River – long may you live!

July 26, 2014

Coyote Gulch:

Contribute to Bob’s father-son climate reporting project here.

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

kn

No room for mistakes in the Colorado River Basin.

Conservation has to be the centerpiece of local, state and regional water planning efforts

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — When Congress 93 years ago formally renamed the Grand River as the Colorado, it probably didn’t have any inkling about what the mightiest river in the West would be subjected too early in the 21st century.

Now far removed from that era of hopeful development, the river is over-exploited from beginning to end. Headwater streams are diverted to water acres of bluegrass lawns in Denver, and mountain resorts mindlessly draw down tributaries for snowmaking during the low-flow season, just when trout most need the water.

Just this week, scientists said they’ve documented an astounding rate of water loss in the basin from groundwater pumping alone, which may turn out to be a worse problem than we think, groundwater development is state-regulated, therefore…

View original 738 more words


“Buy and dry no silver bullet” — Environmental Defense Fund #ColoradoRiver

July 25, 2014
Crop circles -- irrigated agriculture

Crop circles — irrigated agriculture

From the Environmental Defense Fund (Aaron Citron):

On Colorado River Day, it’s worth considering how we can write the next chapter in the water story of the American West.

With the recent news that Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, it’s impossible to ignore the trajectory of America’s hardest-working river. In the Colorado River Basin, we are already using more water annually than is being supplied by snowpack and other precipitation. The Bureau of Reclamation and others predict that this gap in water supply and demand will increase to nearly 4 million acre-feet by 2060, with significant shortages possible as early as 2017.

It has become clear that, over time, our water uses are going to have to change. In thinking about where – in what sectors – this change should take place, we must also consider the environmental, cultural and economic services that each sector provides.

“Buy and dry” is no silver bullet

In the discussions about how to deal with the growing gap between water supply and demand, the default solution too often involves permanently taking water out of agricultural irrigation and transferring it to meet the needs of a growing urban population.

Agriculture uses approximately 80 percent of Colorado River water to irrigate nearly 4 million acres, providing 15 percent of America’s crop output and 13 percent of our livestock production. It is a significant contributor to rural economies and provides a number of environmental, cultural and ecosystem services benefits.

It’s true that all water-using sectors will have to be part of the solution, but the “buy and dry” of farms and ranches around the West has left a litany of problems: remaining irrigators can no longer afford to operate their ditches, farm supply businesses are seeing dramatically reduced revenues, farmworkers are left unemployed, and in some cases, river reaches and wetlands once dependent on return flows are being left to dry.

As water scarcity increases the interest in buying water from farms and ranches, we will need to find ways to address these economic and environmental impacts.

Designing solutions for rivers, people and the economy
There are a number of ways to improve the health of our working rivers while also making water sharing profitable for agricultural water users.

Continued investment in improving agricultural efficiency and infrastructure is an important first step to improve both agricultural and environmental sustainability.

Water banks and markets that pay irrigators a fair price – taking long-term agricultural productivity, regional economics and environmental impacts into consideration – need to be part of a portfolio of solutions to address the significant issues of water shortages exacerbated by drought and climate change.

A portfolio approach

Even though most of the water in the Colorado River Basin and the West is used in agricultural production, there are significant opportunities to conserve water in other sectors.

Urban water use is one sector where demands are projected to increase significantly. If the cities that use Colorado River water want to grow, the first place they should look for water is in their existing supply. After all, urban water conservation is a proven strategy: the Los Angeles region added more than 3 million residents since 1990 without increasing its total water use.

Cities can and must make a significant contribution to the supply-demand gap at lower cost and with fewer impacts to our rural western economies and environmental values.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Supply and Demand Basin Study identified 1 million acre-feet of water-savings potential from municipal and industrial conservation programs and an additional 1.15 million acre-feet from municipal and industrial water reuse programs. Cost-effective conservation savings can be achieved through a number of programs and incentives, including improved water rate structures, conversion to high efficiency appliances, improvements in urban irrigation systems, and other public education and incentive programs.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the [support for] the Arkansas Valley Conduit” — Sen. Mark Udall

July 25, 2014
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A draft federal energy and water funding bill includes an additional $90 million for projects such as the Arkansas Valley Conduit, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Democrats, said Thursday. The Senate appropriations committee approved the bill, which contains a provision supported by both senators that explicitly makes data collection and design work eligible for funding through these accounts. It will help ensure the Arkansas Valley Conduit is eligible for these funds and sends a clear signal to the Bureau of Reclamation that the conduit is a priority project.

The board of the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, conduit sponsor, was dismayed earlier this year when it learned only $500,000 was budgeted for the conduit next year. It is hoping to get at least $3 million for continuing data and design tasks that will lead to construction of the $400 million conduit.

The conduit is the final piece of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, authorized in 1962. When complete, the 130-mile pipeline will provide clean drinking water to 50,000 people in 40 communities east of Pueblo.

“For more than five decades, folks in Southeastern Colorado have been waiting for the federal government to fulfill its promise to build the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

That’s far too long for these communities to wait for a reliable source of clean drinking water,” Bennet said.

“I have been proud to work for years to ensure the federal government supports the Arkansas Valley Conduit. This funding brings the people of Southeastern Colorado one step closer to having a clean, safe and reliable source of water,” Udall said.

More Arkansas Valley Conduit funding here and here.


New study from @UCIrvine finds groundwater loss greater threat to western US than understood #ColoradoRiver

July 24, 2014

Here’s the release:

A new study by NASA and University of California, Irvine, scientists finds more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

This study is the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal water management agency, the basin has been suffering from prolonged, severe drought since 2000 and has experienced the driest 14-year period in the last hundred years.

The research team used data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin, which are related to changes in water amount on and below the surface. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater. That’s almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater.

“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine, and the study’s lead author. “This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”

Water above ground in the basin’s rivers and lakes is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and its losses are documented. Pumping from underground aquifers is regulated by individual states and is often not well documented.

“There’s only one way to put together a very large-area study like this, and that is with satellites,” said senior author Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at JPL on leave from UC Irvine, where he is an Earth system science professor. “There’s just not enough information available from well data to put together a consistent, basin-wide picture.”

Famiglietti said GRACE is like having a giant scale in the sky. Within a given region, the change in mass due to rising or falling water reserves influences the strength of the local gravitational attraction. By periodically measuring gravity regionally, GRACE reveals how much a region’s water storage changes over time.

The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates roughly four million acres of farmland.

“The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States,” said Famiglietti. “With Lake Mead at its lowest level ever, we wanted to explore whether the basin, like most other regions around the world, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply. We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand.”

Famiglietti noted that the rapid depletion rate will compound the problem of short supply by leading to further declines in streamflow in the Colorado River.

“Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico,” Famiglietti said.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which posted the manuscript online July 24. Co-authors included other scientists from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado. The research was funded by NASA and the University of California.

For more information on NASA’s GRACE satellite mission, see: http://www.nasa.gov/grace and http://www.csr.utexas.edu/grace

More groundwater coverage here.


SDS construction reaches Colorado Springs ahead of schedule and under budget — The Colorado Springs Gazette

July 24, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Emily Donovan):

Huge pipes being tunneled underground near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue is the first big sign after almost two decades of work to increase the water available to the Colorado Springs area by a third…

Pipeline construction at the busy intersection is ahead of schedule, expected to be complete in September rather than November, said SDS spokesperson Janet Rummel…

A $125 million facility that will be able to process 50 million gallons of water a day, the treatment plant on the east side of Colorado Springs is halfway constructed, also ahead of schedule. Construction began in March 2013 and will be finished in fall of 2015. The plant is expected to put out drinking water in April 2016…

SDS construction is estimated to cost $847 million – $147 million less than the original estimation in 2009.

Rummel said money was saved by asking engineers to make designs that would be cost-effective without damaging drinking water quality, like keeping every part of the water treatment plant under the same roof instead of separate buildings.

This means SDS will cause less of a utilities rate increase for CSU customers than originally expected in 2009…

“This is the future of Colorado Springs,” said Jay Hardison, CSU water treatment plant project manager.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here and here.


Lower Dolores study details native fish needs — The Dolores Star

July 24, 2014

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

A conceptual plan for aiding native fish on the Lower Dolores River was approved by the Dolores Water Conservancy District in June. The District has been negotiating with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, Forest Service, and conservation groups on ways to improve native fish habitat below McPhee Dam. The result is the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring, and Evaluation Plan, focusing on three native fish: the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“The plan provides a more coordinated approach for improving native fish habitat, with a focus on additional monitoring,” said Amber Clark, with the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance.

After McPhee Dam was built, small spills, as well as non-spill years from 2001-2004, began reducing the quality and amount of habitat required to meet the needs of native fish. Spring releases from the dam are later in the season, which has reduced the chance for spawning and survival of native fish.

“Protecting the native fish species locally is important because the healthier they are, the less likely they will be seen by the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife) agency as requiring protective status under the Endangered Species Act,” said Ken Curtis, an engineer with the Dolores Water Conservancy District. “Working to help these species keeps control of our river at a local level.”

The implementation plan presents known and preferred habitat conditions and lifecycles of native fish within six separate stretches of the river below McPhee dam, four of which are a focus of conservation: Dove Creek Pump Station to Pyramid (Reach 3), Pyramid to Big Gypsum Valley (Reach 4), Slickrock Canyon (Reach 5), and Bedrock to San Miguel confluence (Reach 6) Reach 3 (nine miles)

Roundtail Chub are most abundant in Reach 3 and have a relatively stable population there. Mature roundtail are smaller than in other Western Slope rivers, indicating they are adapting to low flows. Fish counts at the Dove Creek area counted 140 roundtail chub, the highest in 13 years.

Bluehead and flannelmouth suckers are present, but in low abundance. In 2013, eight bluehead and one flannelmouth were counted. Habitat is good for bluehead, a more cold tolerant fish.

Reach 4 (38 miles)

Disappointment enters the Dolores in this stretch, flushing sediment into the main channel.

All three native species are found in this stretch as well as problematic non-natives including the black bullhead and smallmouth bass, a voracious predator.

Studies show that populations shift toward non-native species during prolonged low-flow periods. In 2004, native species made up less than 50 percent of the fish caught. After a prolonged spill in 2005, 84 percent of the fish sampled were flannelmouth sucker or roundtail chubs. Because of silt buildup from Disappointment Creek, improving flows here would especially help native fish beat out non-natives.

In August 2013, flooding showed that Reach 4 below Disappointment caused unnatural silting, causing a significant fish kill.

A lack of water limits critical dilution effects, and there is an unnatural buildup of silt because of infrequent flushing flows. “During a flash flood event on Disappointment, the surge of debris-filled water flows into the Dolores River, but there is no water to help dilute the surge of silt-laden water,” said Jim White, a CPW fish biologist.

Monitoring native species at Big Gypsum will remain a priority as it appears that the population may be sensitive to low flow.

Flows are a big factor. In 2005, when there was a managed spill, biologists found 150 flannelmouth per hectare at the Big Gypsum site. While in 2004 when there was no spill, flannelmouth were counted at five fish per hectare.

In April 2013, a PIT-tag array was installed across the river just above the Disappointment Creek confluence. Fish are implanted with grain-size microchips and can be detected when they move. Only a few fish have been tagged in the lower Dolores, but more implants are planned. Data shows native fish move up and down the river. The cost of the PIT-tag array is about $75,000.

Slickrock Canyon (32 miles)

All three native fish species are found,but in low abundance. This canyon is difficult to survey, and can usually be floated if there is a spill from McPhee reservoir. The last survey was in 2007, but more are needed to determine if the stretch has rearing habitats for native fish. A relatively large number of small native fish was found near the mouth of Coyote Wash, suggesting tributaries play an important role for young fish.

Bedrock to the San Miguel River confluence (12 miles)

There are a lot of unknowns. It is highly affected by natural salt loading through the Paradox Valley. The salinity is a barrier for fish between the Dolores River below the San Miguel and Slickrock Canyon. A salinity injection well is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation here to mitigate the problem. Researchers want to ascertain the levels of salinity. A second PIT-tag array is considered near Bedrock to help figure out how fish move .

Spill management

Mimicking a natural hydrograph for native fish is one goal of the implementation plan.

McPhee stores most of the Dolores River spring runoff, and exports much of the storage to the Montezuma Valley of the San Juan River Basin. The result is a lack of spring flushing flows in the Lower Dolores to move sediment and create natural habitat.

When inflow into the reservoir exceeds capacity, the spill benefits boaters and the downstream fishery. However, a prolonged drought has limited spill years. The reservoir holds a fishery pool of 29,824 acre-feet allocated downstream throughout the year by CPW. Spill water doesn’t count against the fishery pool, but it is subject to shortages in dry years.

The report suggests ways to optimize the fish pool and spills for the benefit of native fish.

Thermal regime management sends water downstream earlier, in March and April rather than in May, to keep water cooler and delay the fish spawn until after the whitewater season.

Biologists have documented that when spill water is released in May, the low flows on the lower Dolores have heated up, cueing fish to spawn early.

“The fry and eggs are washed away in the whitewater, a hit on survival,” White said.

A model indicates that flow volumes of 125-200 cfs on May 1 may be necessary to keep water below 15C at the Dove Creek Pumps. More water downstream may keep water cool enough to delay spawning. A gauge at James Ranch will monitor conditions.

Flushing flows range from 400-800 cfs are important to prepare spawning areas and improve oxygenated flow around eggs.

Habitat flows ranging from 2,000 cfs to 3,400 cfs are necessary for resetting channel geometry, scouring pools, creating channels for fish nurseries. The Bureau of Reclamation urges increasing the fish pool to 36,500 acre-feet a year. A fund of $400,000 is earmarked for buying additional water, but none has been acquired using these funds.

“There has always been a desire for more water for the downstream fishery,” says Curtis, of DWCD. “Before there is a blanket grab for additional water, there needs to be a specific focus on how it will help, and those questions are being pursued.”

The goal of the Implementation Plan is to maintain, protect, and enhance the native fish populations in the Dolores River.

The area is susceptible to being overrun by small mouth bass and affords opportunity for their suppression by removing caught fish.

Managed spills scour the river bottom, and move sediment in ways that benefit native fish and their young.

Blueheads are rarely detected in this stretch.

Biologists see the problem as two-fold:

The Snaggletooth Rapid is in this stretch, making fish sampling a challenge, but regular fish monitoring is encouraged in the report.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.


Steamboat Springs: 1st Yampa River cleanup day of season is Monday

July 23, 2014

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

July 23, 2014
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 thru July 20, 2014

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 thru July 20, 2014

Click here to read the current assessment from NIDIS (hosted by the Colorado Climate Center).


Durango: CLUB 20 Water Policy Committee Meeting — July 31

July 22, 2014
Durango

Durango

From email from Club 20 (Shawna Grieger):

Here [are] the most recent agendas for the upcoming CLUB 20 Water, Agriculture, Public Lands & Transportation and Energy Policy Meetings that will be held in Durango, Colorado.

Anyone is welcome to attend CLUB 20 policy meetings during the Winter and Summer meetings. However, you must be a CLUB 20 Member to vote during committee meetings and to receive e-updates and alerts per committee. Please let us know if you are planning on attending the Summer Policy Committee Meetings July 31 and August 1 in Durango or if you have any questions regarding CLUB 20 efforts and membership.


Grand Junction: Some history of the Kannah Creek diversion #COWaterPlan

July 22, 2014
Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

Grand Junction back in the day with the Grand Mesa in background

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Greg Trainor):

From the incorporation of the town of Grand Junction in 1882 until 1911, the prospect of a firm water supply for Grand Junction citizens was in doubt. For almost 30 years, numerous recall elections, battles between the town and private water purveyors, and municipal expeditions to find mountain “water at any price” took up most of the official business of Grand Junction aldermen.

See-sawing back and forth between municipal ownership of the town water system and franchises to private companies to operate the system, the source of the town water supply also see-sawed between locations on the Colorado River at Fifth Street and the Gunnison River near the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion. In Spring, supply was up, but so was sediment and mud. In late summer and fall, flow was down and ability to keep pipes full of water for fire protection suffered.

In 1894 the citizens voted 88 percent to build and operate a municipal water system but it took 13 years for the town to finally file for a water right in Kannah Creek, 20 miles to the southeast. The town was desperate: Could they afford a municipal system, who would buy bonds to pay for a system, where were there year-round supplies of water?

After having looked at mountain water supplies on Pinon Mesa near Glade Park, Kruzen Springs above Palisade, Whitewater Creek (later acquired by the City in 1989), the city settled on Kannah Creek. Ironically with the help of engineers from the Denver Union Water Company (later to become the Denver Water Department), the city filed a petition in eminent domain in Mesa County District Court for the first 7.81 cubic feet per second of flow from Kannah Creek.

As owners of all of the direct flow water rights on Kannah Creek, ranchers and farmers in Kannah Creek were not long in joining together in their opposition to the city’s actions. Their water was in the cross hairs of the city. An action in eminent domain is not the same as a filing for a water right in Water Court. In the latter case, a filing is made for water and proof is presented to the court that shows the water being put to beneficial use. The Water Court then establishes a priority date for use of the water, insuring that no other water user with a more senior water right is damaged. On the contrary, the city’s action in condemnation allowed the city to act under its powers of eminent domain and secure (“take”) water for the use of its citizens, provided, however, that the city make full compensation or satisfaction for all damages incurred by the taking.

In 1911, four years later, a jury awarded $182,940 to all parties from whom the city had acquired the water. The District Court also decreed that the city to be the owner of “a first, superior and paramount right to a continuous flow of 7.81 cfs over and above all other water rights claimed in Kannah Creek.” The city had the water, now it needed a way to get the water from Kannah Creek to Reservoir Hill above the city cemeteries, near Fifth Street. After years of offerings, Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (Pueblo steel mills), purchased the water bonds which allowed Grand Junction to build a state-of-the-art wood stave water line from Kannah Creek to the water plant.

To this day, the city’s pre-1922, “paramount” water right is the backbone of the city’s water supply system. Since 1911, the city has continued to acquire additional water rights and ranch properties to insure that mountain water is available to its citizens.

These actions between 1907 and 1911 colored all relationships between the City of Grand Junction and the landowners in Kannah Creek. Storage of Kannah Creek water, easements and rights of way, water for livestock, treated water for safe drinking, reservoir ownership and maintenance, and administration of the Grand Mesa “Pool” were continuous issues that festered during the entire 20th century. Yes, the landowners in Kannah Creek have long memories.

Today, the efforts to affect a State Water Plan include ideas to share water between agriculture and municipal users. It is unlikely that municipal condemnation would be the first idea implemented, but rather a series of purchase options, water banking, water rentals, or payments for fallowing would be considered. However, when circumstances cause a municipal water provider to feel it has exhausted all methods to secure a safe and reliable water supply, condemnation remains as a tool that, at the direction of a water policy board, could be employed to acquire water “at any price.”

Note: Material for this article comes from “City of Grand Junction v. Kannah Creek Water Users Association, No. 27047, Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc. December 20, 1976.

Greg Trainor is the recently retired Public Works and Utility Director for the City of Grand Junction. He is currently the Chair of the Advisory Committee for the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University and acting President of the Southwest Chapter of the River Management Society.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water: The first C-BT Project water was released from Horsetooth Reservoir into the Poudre River on this day 63 yrs ago #ColoradoRiver

July 21, 2014

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Horsetooth Reservoir gets its water from a network of Western Slope reservoirs fed by mountain snowmelt. Water is usually pumped up from Lake Granby to Shadow Mountain Reservoir, where gravity eventually pulls it down through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel and into a couple of more reservoirs before it reaches Horsetooth.

Back in 1951, hundreds of people came to the reservoir to mark the event — it was a long-awaited milestone for farmers and cities along the Front Range, who had survived decades of drought.

The shuttling of Western Slope water into Horsetooth and the Poudre River is a system that Northern Colorado has been reliant on for decades. In Northern Colorado, the plea for more water started in the Great Depression, when a devastating drought plagued the western and central United States.

The federal government agreed to come to the aid of Colorado’s farmers and in the late 1930s began building the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Today, the C-BT project supplies Fort Collins with 65 percent of its water.

I was 4 months and 16 days old at time. I don’t remember the event. More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Eagle River Valley: Eagle River Watershed Councils’s 5th annual RiverFest, August 9

July 21, 2014

eagleriverwatershedcouncilriverfest08092014
Click here for the announcement.

More Eagle River watershed coverage here.


Can we conserve our way out of our supply gap in the #ColoradoRiver Basin? #COWaterPlan

July 19, 2014

thehardestworkingriverinthewestcolooradoriver

Update: I heard from the Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers media guy, Gil Rudawsky. Scroll down to read the update.

Western Resource Advocates and American Rivers attempt to answer that question with a new report. Here’s their release:

On July 17 2014, Western Resource Advocates joined with American Rivers to release a new report that identifies conservation, reuse and other innovative solutions that could eliminate Western water shortages stemming from the over-taxed and stressed Colorado River. The report defines five cost-effective and clearly defined solutions that – if implemented at a larger scale across the basin – could meet the water needs of the West’s business, agricultural and growing population through 2060.

The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin provides a comprehensive package of proven methods to conserve water.

  • Download the Executive Summary
  • Download the Full Report
  • See the full press release
  • The new report estimates that 4.4 million acre-feet of water could be saved and made available for other uses if these proven methods are implemented throughout the basin – more than enough water to meet projected growth in water needs in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, for the next half-century.

    This report comes at a critical time for Western States with record droughts, depleted reservoirs hitting all-time lows, and a growing population increasing water demands.

    “Our report showcases the ‘All-Star’ water solutions – actions that are proven, cost-effective and ready to meet our current and future water needs,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “The fact is, there is a lot of concern about the Colorado River right now but these solutions will work and help everyone – from agriculture to growing cities –

    “There is a widening water gap creating 3.8 million acre-feet of additional water needed to meet the needs of the growing population of the West. This is an enormous amount which, if not carefully managed, could deplete the river and dramatically alter the landscape of the seven basin states,” said Matt Rice, Director of Colorado Basin Programs for American Rivers. “These solutions will ensure the river’s resources meet all future water needs for urban, rural, business and agricultural communities across all seven basin states, while still protecting the natural environment of the West.”

    The five critical steps for solving our current and future water shortages are:

  • Municipal conservation, saving 1.0 million acre-feet through such efforts as improved landscaping techniques, rebate programs that incentivize water-saving devices and standardized water audits
  • Municipal reuse, saving 1.2 million acre-feet through gray water treatment and re-use for irrigation, industrial uses and other purposes
  • Agricultural efficiency and water banking, saving 1.0 million acre-feet via voluntary, compensated improvements in irrigation efficiency and technology, crop shifting and other measures (while avoiding permanently taking agricultural lands out of production)
  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency, saving 160 thousand acre-feet using wind, solar PV, and geothermal energy solutions, and new water-efficient thermoelectric power plants
  • Innovative water opportunities, generating up to 1.1 million acre-feet through creative measures such as invasive plant removal, dust-on-snow mitigation and targeted inland desalinization.
  • I’ve got email into their media guy about the dust-on-snow savings in their plan. 400,000 acre-feet is a lot and I haven’t run across an estimate like that. I thought the only historical adjunct for dust mitigation was the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 and we certainly didn’t have accurate measurement of snowpack back then. We do know that the act lowered dust levels.

    Update: Gil Rudawsky got back to me with a paragraph from their report, I believe, it’s unclear from his email. At any rate the text reads, “By implementing measures to reduce the accumulation of dust on snow, lower evaporative losses are anticipated.”

    I told him that it’s a long way from “anticipated” to wet water. No one even knows if we can successfully implement dust-on-snow mitigation to the extent needed to back up their number. It’s just a little careless on their part.

    As an aside they also have a weather modification number in their totals. I have not been apprised of solid data from cloud-seeding efforts. That being said many large water providers set aside substantial funds each year for projects.

    I think everyone nowadays agrees that river health should be right up there when setting policy so I think that is one good takeaway from the report.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    The undefined transmountain diversion to be addressed by the Colorado Water plan would be unnecessary under conservation proposals that would keep more water in the Colorado River, two environmental organizations said.

    Five proposals listed by the organizations in “The Hardest Working River” could be of immediate and long-term benefit to the river, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, which issued the report along with American Rivers, which releases an annual report listing endangered rivers.

    Conservation measures “absolutely” could offset the need for new storage in the river, said Matt Rice, director of Colorado conservation for American Rivers, in a conference call with reporters.

    “We’re having a hard enough time keeping waters in the reservoirs as it is” without a new one, Rice said.

    Augmenting Colorado’s water supply from outside sources also wouldn’t help, Rice said, dismissing the idea of new pipes and water projects to deliver water into the state.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board is moving ahead on the task of drafting a statewide water plan.

    Front Range water providers have floated the idea of a new transmountain diversion, but have offered no information as to where it might be located. One proposal calls for water to be diverted only during years with heavy runoff.

    Two dozen transmountain diversions now send as many as 600,000 acre feet of water to the east side of the Continental Divide.

    Colorado and the other upper Colorado River basin states are required to send at least 7.4 million acre feet of water per year to Arizona, Nevada and California. Five solutions that American Rivers and Western Resource Advocates are suggesting “would go a long ways toward meeting the needs in the future,” Miller said.

    Taken together, the proposals could keep 4.4 million acre feet in the river, Miller said.

    The proposals call for conservation and reuse of municipal water, with both more efficient fixtures and reduced irrigation of lawns and other outside uses; greater agricultural efficiency and water banking.

    Further, the proposal calls for more efficient water use by the energy industry and the use of rooftop solar and wind sources; and the removal of water-guzzling invasive plants such as tamarisk.

    Xeriscape landscape

    Xeriscape landscape

    From Colorado Public Radio (Ana Hanel):

    The goal is not to divert water from one area to another, said American Rivers’ Matt Rice.

    “We deliberately don’t address and don’t believe that the right approach is with new pipelines and new large-scale water projects, because they’re significantly more expensive,” Rice says.

    The report says millions of people’s drinking water is at risk over the next few decades if demand continues to outpace the Colorado River’s water supply.

    It’ll be important over the next few years for communities to continue to encourage water conservation, said Bart Miller of Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates.

    “We can look to having landscapes that use more native vegetation, that are smaller in size,” Miller says. “We can greatly decrease the amount of water that’s used outside, which is about half of the water use for most metropolitan areas.”

    Miller said it’ll be important to replicate successful conservation and water-reuse programs in cities throughout the southwest.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Eating the #ColoradoRiver shortage elephant, one bite at a time — John Fleck

    July 19, 2014
    Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

    John Fleck lays out a strategy to reduce the long-term shortage on the Colorado. Here’s his report from Inkstain. Here’s an excerpt:

    This line from a paper a few years back by Edella Schlager and Tanya Heikkila may seem obvious, but in the context of current discussions over the future of Colorado River management, it bears repeating:

    A water allocation rule that allocates more water than is available in a river is not well matched to its setting.

    Yup. That in a nutshell is the problem highlighted by this oft-revisited Bureau of Reclamation slide demonstrating how the Lower Colorado River Basin’s water budget works. Everyone here is following the rules, living within their legal allocation, and Lake Mead keeps dropping because the Law of the River has allocated more water than is available in the river.

    This is the critical thing to understand as we see the beginnings of the new “Colorado River System Conservation Program” taking shape, which would create a framework to pay farmers to leave water in the river. It’s not enough to simply save water. The way we go about it must be embedded within, and take into account, the rules governing allocation and distributions of Colorado River water…

    The 1990-2003 experience suggests that the water conservation piece of this may be the easy part. As a nice new Western Resource Advocates white paper explains, we know how to conserve the water. The key piece here, and the reason the System Conservation Program is so interesting and important, is that we need to get the water allocation rules and river management policies right in order to cause those conservation savings to happen.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water opts for gradual rate increase — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 18, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project Map via Northern Water

    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District will increase the cost of its water step-by-step over 2016 and 2017, which will mean 28 percent cost increase per year for cities like Fort Collins.

    The district’s board came to a decision about the rate increases on July 11, after months of considering the best way to hike prices to balance out the district’s budget. The board initially considered a more than 40 percent increase in 2016, but decided to compromise with cities and other water users concerned that such drastic increases would harm their finances.

    Fort Collins Utilities, which now gets the bulk of its water from the district, says that in the short term customers’ utility rates will not be affected…

    For 2015, allotment prices for cities were set at $30.50 per acre foot, up from $28. While that cost will only increase for cities over the next few years, irrigators will face a 61 percent increase in allotment costs in 2016 and 2017.

    Fort Collins Utilities directly owns 18,855 units in addition to about 14,000 units it leases from the North Poudre Irrigation Co. But, in terms of actual use for 2014, the city has used 14,900 acre feet of water since Nov. 1, when the water year begins.

    After the High Park Fire, Utilities became even more reliant on C-BT water since the Poudre River, the city’s other water source, was filled with fire and flood debris. This year, the city gets about 65 percent of its water from Northern Water, and 35 percent from the Poudre.

    From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Jessica Maher):

    Costs are expected to increase every year until 2018, when municipal and industrial C-BT users will be charged $53.10 per unit and agricultural users will be charged $30.20 per unit. That represents a nearly 90 percent increase for municipalities and 202 percent increase for agricultural users.

    The city of Loveland owns 12,118 units of C-BT water, 5,112 of which are fixed at a rate of $1.50 per unit that will not change.

    The increase for Loveland’s remaining 7,006 open-rate units will cost the city about $176,000 more by 2018. Loveland Water and Power staff will budget for the increase in the coming years, senior water resources engineer Larry Howard said.

    “It’s real money, but it’s not something that’s devastating to the utility or something,” Howard said.

    Next year, rates are set to increase by 9 percent. That’s a manageable increase that will not require rate increases for Loveland Water and Power customers, Howard said.

    Whether customers will see an impact from the increase in future years is not known.

    “When we do our cost of service study next year, the cost increase will be taken into account, along with any other changes in our costs,” Utility Accounting Manager Jim Lees said.

    The city of Loveland’s primary two sources of water are the Green Ridge Glade Reservoir and water diverted directly from the Big Thompson River at the Big Dam.

    “We generally rely on those each year and then start filling in with C-BT and Windy Gap water,” Howard said. “It depends on the year and how much we need.”

    Depending on conditions year to year, the city rents C-BT water to farmers, so Howard said that could help to absorb the cost of the rate increases over the next few years.

    Brian Werner, Northern Water’s public information officer, said that the increases are the result of a comprehensive study that started last year.

    “The cost of doing business is going up,” Werner said. “Our management has charged us with looking at where we can control costs.”

    More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


    Roaring Fork watershed: Robert Woods was named the 2014 River Conservator Award at River Rendezvous last week

    July 16, 2014

    Water Lines: Colorado needs a better water plan — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

    July 16, 2014


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jim Pokrandt):

    It’s almost time for football training camps, so here’s a gridiron analogy for Colorado River water policy watchers: Western Colorado is defending two end zones. One is the Colorado River. The other is agriculture. The West Slope team has to make a big defensive play. If water planning errs on the side of overdeveloping the Colorado River, the river loses, the West Slope economy loses and West Slope agriculture could be on the way out.

    This is how the Colorado River Basin Roundtable is viewing its contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered up by Gov. John Hickenlooper. A draft plan will be submitted this December and a final plan in December 2015. The Roundtable is assessing local water supply needs and environmental concerns for inclusion into the plan and there is plenty of work to consider in the region. But the big play may very well be the keeping of powerful forces from scoring on our two goal lines.

    Here’s why: Colorado’s population is slated to double by 2050. Most of it will be on the Front Range, but our region is growing too. Mother Nature is not making any new water. We still depend on the same hydrological cycle that goes back to Day 1. So where is the “new” water going to come from? Right now, there seems to be two top targets, the Colorado River and agriculture (where 85 percent of state water use lies in irrigated fields). Colorado needs a better plan.

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable represents Mesa, Garfield, Summit, Eagle, Grand and Pitkin counties. This region already sends between 450,000 and 600,000 acre feet of water annually across the Continental Divide through transmountain diversions (TMDs) to support the Front Range and the Arkansas River Basin.

    That water is 100 percent gone. There are no return flows, such as there are with West Slope water users. On top of that, this region could see another 140,000 acre feet go east. A number of Roundtable constituents have long-standing or prospective agreements with Front Range interests wrapped around smaller TMDs. Existing infrastructure can still take some more water. That’s the scorecard right now. We assert another big TMD threatens streamflows and thus the recreational and agricultural economies that define Western Colorado, not to mention the environment.

    In the bigger picture, the Colorado River Compact of 1922 requires Colorado to bypass about 70 percent of the river system to the state line to comply with legal limits on depletions so six other states can have their legal share of the water. Failure to do so, by overdeveloping the river, threatens compact curtailments and chaos nobody wants to see. For one thing, that kind of bad water planning could result in a rush to buy or condemn West Slope agricultural water rights.

    The Roundtable has heard these concerns loudly and clearly from its own members across the six counties as well as from citizens who have given voice to our section of the water plan, known as the Basin Implementation Plan (BIP). A draft of the BIP can be viewed and comments offered by going online to http://coloradobip.sgm‐inc.com/. It is under the “Resources” tab.

    Jim Pokrandt is Colorado Basin Roundtable Chair.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Pueblo Board of Water Works board meeting recap

    July 16, 2014
    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Colorado Springs will be taking a more regional approach and looking at risk factors as it develops its 50-year water plan. That’s a shift from the 1996 water resources plan that focused solely on supply and led to Southern Delivery System, said Brett Gracely, water resources manager for Colorado Springs Utilities.

    “We are seriously evaluating the timing of future SDS components,” Gracely told the Pueblo Board of Water Works Tuesday.

    Utilities is updating the plan that will determine its actions in water development after SDS comes online in 2016. The plan will look at watershed health, fire vulnerability and climate change, as well as social values and tradeoffs. It also will incorporate traditional factors like water supply, demand and quality.

    “Because of changes in technology and software, we can run thousands of scenarios through our models,” Gracely said.

    Another key difference is that Colorado Springs Utilities is not planning on building another $1 billion pipeline as a result of this plan, but more carefully evaluating its options after SDS.

    “It’s a completely blank page,” Gracely said. “But it will have no effect on SDS phase I.”

    The first phase is a 50-mile pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs, served by three pump stations and a treatment plant. The second phase of SDS includes the construction of two reservoirs on Williams Creek southeast of Colorado Springs.

    Water board members Tom Autobee and Kevin McCarthy questioned Gracely on what conservation measures Colorado Springs envisions in order to cut demand. Reduced water use after the 2002 drought has been complemented by a tiered rate structure that makes expanded water use more costly, he explained. Colorado Springs also has dropped minimum landscaping requirements that at one time would have encouraged greater water use.

    “What is your telescope telling you about West Slope imports?” McCarthy asked.

    “Warmer weather is what we’re expecting,” Gracely replied. “Half the (climate) models are showing it will be wetter, and half drier, but they all say it will be warmer.”

    More Pueblo Board of Water Works coverage here.


    Northern Water board approves rate increase #ColoradoRiver

    July 15, 2014
    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    A number of share holders in the Colorado-Big Thompson Project — the largest water-supply project in northern Colorado — will see assessment costs sharply increase during the next few years, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District board recently decided.

    Although the numbers aren’t set in stone and are subject to change, the board on Friday approved a general outline that over time increases open-assessment fees for municipal and industrial water users from $28 this year to $53.10 by 2018, and increases those fees for agricultural users from $10 this year to $30.20 per unit by 2018.

    The increases won’t apply to those who own fixed-assessment C-BT shares. Those who bought shares before 1959 and still own those shares still pay a fixed assessment of $1.50 per unit. The majority of the city of Greeley’s C-BT shares, for example, are fixed-assessment shares, and won’t be impacted by the changes, according to Brian Werner, public information officer with Northern Water.

    The recently approved uptick for open assessments was made to keep up with the always-increasing expenses at Northern Water, Werner said, noting that the uptick in wildfire-mitigation efforts, water-quality measures and overall regulation, among other expenses, are making it more and more pricey to deliver water from the C-BT’s high-mountain reservoirs to its users across northern Colorado.

    “It’s just another example of how water is getting more and more expensive. There’s no getting around it,” Werner said, noting that, despite Northern Water continuing its efforts to reduce operating costs, the increase in open assessments was needed.

    Increases in water costs are nothing new for users in the state, particularly in northern Colorado, where rapid population growth along the Front Range, large ag use and increased oil-and-gas production have sharply increased demand for water.

    And as supplies have tightened, prices have skyrocketed.

    In January 2013, the price of a water unit in the C-BT Project was about $9,500. Now it’s well over $20,000 per unit.

    But while costs are increasing, Northern water officials stress that, in the global picture, C-BT users are still getting a good deal on good water.

    Werner noted that 1,000 gallons of water is still being delivered to C-BT share holders “for pennies.”

    The C-BT Project collects and delivers on average more than 200,000 acre feet of water each year (about 65 billion gallons). Most of this water is the result of melting snow in the upper Colorado River basin west of the Continental Divide. The project transports the water to the East Slope via a 13.1-mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.

    C-BT water flows to more than 640,000 acres of irrigated farm and ranch land and 860,000 people in portions of eight counties within Northern Water boundaries, according to Northern Water data.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Garfield County Commissioners approve deep injection well

    July 15, 2014
    Deep injection well

    Deep injection well

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Garfield County commissioners on Monday approved an oil and gas wastewater injection well near Battlement Mesa after the company responded to concerns that it could trigger earthquakes.

    Duke Cooley, senior geologist at Ursa Resources, told commissioners there’s been no correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in northwest Colorado’s Piceance Basin.

    The Battlement Concerned Citizens group and the Battlement Mesa Service Association, a homeowners group for the unincorporated community, had raised the seismic issue amid mounting concern about an apparent correlation between oil and gas injection wells and earthquakes in several states. Last month, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission suspended operation of an injection well in Weld County after a 3.4 magnitude earthquake struck in the Greeley area May 31, followed by smaller quake in June.

    “It was a wake-up call. It was the first seismic event there in 30 years,” Doug Saxton of Battlement Concerned Citizens told Garfield commissioners.

    He cited what he said is a lack of adequate earthquake monitoring by the U.S. Geological Survey.

    “Nothing under 4.0 (magnitude) really gets their attention,” Saxton said.

    Monitoring sites

    He said the agency’s closest monitoring site is 75 miles from Greeley, and the nearest to Battlement Mesa is in the Paradox Valley. He called for the installation of monitoring equipment in the Battlement area and for Ursa to cease injection activity if a quake occurs.

    But Cooley said a local monitoring station isn’t necessary because Geological Survey equipment can detect quakes of less than 1 magnitude hundreds of miles away.

    Garfield County already has 60 approved injection wells, and injection has occurred in 26 of them since 2013, according to the county’s oil and gas liaison, Kirby Wynn. Saxton said Ursa’s would be the seventh within 10 miles of Battlement Mesa.

    Cooley said seismic activity occurs where there has been geological folding, which in the case of the Piceance Basin is around its margins.

    He also said quakes can occur when water is added that reduces friction along a fault plane where geological compression is occurring, in places like Greeley and Oklahoma. The Piceance Basin, by contrast, is now undergoing geological relaxation after previously having been “folded up,” he said.

    State oversight

    Garfield County has surface authority over injection wells but the state oil and gas commission regulates technical “downhole” aspects of the wells such as injection pressure. Lindy Gwinn of Grand Junction, who consults for the industry, told Garfield commissioners Monday, “I can assure you they turn them down when they are not technically correct and there is any risk.”

    She noted that the commission recently did just that in Mesa County. In 2012 it turned down a proposal for an injection well southeast of Grand Junction out of concern it could contaminate ground and surface water due to its shallow depth, and possibly induce earthquakes at the U.S. Department of Energy’s uranium mill tailings disposal site a few miles away.

    That well would have been less than 2,000 feet deep. Ursa’s would be more than a mile deep.

    In agreeing to approve the well, Garfield Commissioner Mike Samson said, “The COGCC, they kind of go over these injection wells with a fine-tooth comb. … I have faith in the COGCC and their very strict regulations that they have.”

    Commissioner Tom Jankovsky agreed, and said if seismic activity did occur in the area, the county would ask companies to cease all injections until the cause could be determined.

    He also encouraged Ursa to install pipelines to the injection well as soon as possible to reduce truck traffic. Ursa officials indicated they hope to do that soon, and that reduced traffic resulting from being able to inject wastewater rather than otherwise dispose of it would be one of the benefits of the well.

    Said Monique Speakman, who supports the proposal and lives on the property where the well will be operated, “It’s going to eliminate truck traffic, noise, dust levels.”

    Battlement Mesa resident Mary Haygood said she had been concerned about both the truck traffic and seismic aspects of the well, but told Ursa officials Monday, “You have allayed my fears somewhat by your explanation and I thank you for that.”

    Ursa already has spent $2 million to drill the well. It needed to do that to do testing required by the oil and gas commission before it can approve the well. The agency is continuing to review the proposal.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Energy Fuels sells the Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    July 14, 2014
    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    Piñon Ridge uranium plant site

    From the Denver Business Journal (Caitlin Hendee):

    Energy Fuels, which previously had plans to build the nation’s first new uranium mill in 30 years, sold its Piñon Ridge license and several other assets in Western Colorado.

    The Toronto, Canada-based company (TSE: EFR) that has an office in Lakewood bought a large quantity of land in the western part of the state almost five years ago.
    Colorado in May gave the mill the required “radioactive materials handling” license, but company spokesperson Curtis Moore told the DBJ that Energy Fuels wouldn’t begin construction until “market conditions warrant.”

    The company would also need an “air permit” from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to begin the $150 million project.

    The mill has been an area of hot debate for environmental activists, who in March sued the U.S. Forest Service to stop the government from allowing the mill to be built near the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

    Energy Fuels instead diverted plans to build it in Montrose County.

    But the company said it has entered into agreements to sell the license and the Piñon Ridge mill to a private investor group managed by Baobab Asset Management LLC and George Glasier.

    Glasier served as president from 2006 until March of 2010.

    The company said the sale also includes mining assets — such as the Sunday Complex, the Willhunt project, the Sage Mine, the Van 4 mine, the Farmer Girl project, the Dunn project and the San Rafael project — all located along the Colorado-Utah border.

    More nuclear coverage here and here.


    Where our water comes from — Fort Collins Coloradoan

    July 14, 2014

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012

    Ash and silt pollute the Cache la Poudre River after the High Park Fire September 2012


    From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

    With Colorado’s water year at its mid-July end and many Northern Colorado reservoirs still flush with the bounty of a plentiful water year, water woes of years past have turned into discussions of how the state will store water in the future.

    In the coming months, the Army Corps of Engineers will release an updated study on the Northern Water Conservancy District’s proposal to expand its water storage capacity near Fort Collins. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build Glade Reservoir northwest of the city, bringing a new reservoir larger than Horsetooth Reservoir to the area.

    Before the release of the study reignites the battle over the potential environmental impacts of expanding Northern Colorado’s water storage capacity, we look at where Fort Collins gets the water that provides the basis for everything from the natural resources residents enjoy to the craft beer they drink…

    Before the High Park Fire, which burned more than 87,000 acres of the Poudre watershed, Fort Collins Utilities split its water sources between the project and the river. But the Poudre’s water has since become filled with fire and flood debris, which prompted a total shutdown of river water for Fort Collins customers.

    Time and the September 2013 floods have cleaned out the river, but the city is still mostly reliant on the C-BT project for more than 60 percent of its water each year.

    Fundamentally, snowmelt fills the many reservoirs in the C-BT project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the project, delivers a certain amount of water to cities like Fort Collins as well as farmers and irrigators — all of whom own hundreds or thousands of acre-feet of the project’s water…

    Here’s a look at where our water comes from.

    THE WESTERN SLOPE

    The water that feeds Colorado — and a vast swath of the nation — begins its downward flow from the Continental Divide high in the Rocky Mountains. In order to harness water that otherwise would flow to the Pacific Ocean, water managers created a vast network of reservoirs, tunnels and canals to reroute Western Slope water to Colorado’s more populous Front Range.

    LAKE GRANBY

    For Fort Collins, and much of the northern Front Range, this is where it all begins. Snowmelt fills this Western Slope reservoir, and the water from it is pumped to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there, it’s literally all downhill — gravity pushes water through five reservoirs until it gets to Horsetooth Reservoir, southwest of Fort Collins. This year, due to above-average snowpack, Lake Granby soon will spill over its banks. It can hold up to 540,000 acre-feet of water.

    HORSETOOTH RESERVOIR

    Horsetooth was built along with the Colorado-Big Thompson Project and is a fraction of the size of Lake Granby — it holds about 156,000 acre-feet of water. This is where Fort Collins will get most of its C-BT water, which has traveled through the 13-mile Adams Tunnel, under U.S. Highway 34, and through several reservoirs. Fort Collins Utilities has its only operational water treatment plant at Horsetooth. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 65 percent of its water from the C-BT project.

    THE CACHE LA POUDRE RIVER

    The Poudre River typically provides Fort Collins with 50 percent of its water. But after the High Park Fire polluted the river, Fort Collins has been forced to shut down its Poudre River sources, sometimes for months. The upper part of the river is considered “wild and scenic” — a federal designation. It is also one of the few remaining dam-free rivers in Colorado. In 2014, Fort Collins gets about 35 percent of its water from the Poudre.

    CARTER LAKE

    Carter Lake is one of many reservoirs that make up the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Some of Fort Collins’ water can come from this reservoir, but not frequently. Other reservoirs in the system include Grand Lake, Mary’s Lake, Lake Estes and Flatiron Reservoir, to name just a few.

    FORT COLLINS

    Treated water coming into Fort Collins comes from a plant near Horsetooth Reservoir. Since Nov. 1, the city has used about 9,700 acre-feet of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and about 5,200 acre-feet from the Poudre River. Before the High Park Fire, the city typically split its water use between the two sources but has since had to use more C-BT water.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    The latest climate briefing from the Western Water Assessment is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

    Upper Colorado River Basin June 2014 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center


    Click here to go to the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard website. Here’s an excerpt:

    Highlights

  • June was much drier than average across most of the region, with southern Utah and far southwestern Colorado seeing the driest conditions.
  • With the above-average spring-summer runoff in Wyoming and most of Colorado, reservoir storage there has strongly rebounded. Utah and southwestern Colorado saw below-average runoff, and reservoir storage continues to lag compared to average conditions.
  • The NOAA CPC monthly and seasonal outlooks are tilted towards wetter-than-average conditions for our region for the summer and early fall. The PSD ‘SWcast’ is less optimistic about the monsoon season than the CPC outlooks, showing a dry tilt for most of Utah and Colorado.
  • In the past month, the progression of atmospheric and oceanic conditions towards El Niño status has slowed, but an El Niño event is still expected to emerge by fall.

  • County commissioners urge participation in developing the #COWaterPlan

    July 12, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    Rachel Richards and Karn Stiegelmeier have penned a guest column that’s running in The Aspen Times. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

    Colorado needs a State Water Plan for our water resources for many reasons. Colorado’s population is growing rapidly, with estimates that 4 million to 5 million more people will be living here by 2050. Not only do we need to ensure adequate amounts of drinking and municipal water in cities along the Front Range, but we also must maintain a secure supply for our state’s essential agricultural industry and the natural environment that our recreational and tourism economy depends upon, an industry that supports more than 80,000 Colorado jobs and contributes more than $9 billion to our economy.

    Water experts agree the plan must include a serious commitment to conservation as a key strategy to ensure the future of Colorado’s economy and natural resources. In addition to being less harmful to our natural environment, conservation is cost-effective and proven to work.

    With his pending State Water Plan, Hickenlooper has a chance to lead the entire Western region in implementing common-sense water conservation.

    We also hope more Coloradans will to get involved in the development of the State Water Plan. This is our chance to design a blueprint for intelligent growth, thriving economies and healthy rivers that are fundamental to our Rocky Mountain lifestyle. Let’s all agree to put politics aside because the reality is that everyone in both rural and urban Colorado owns this issue. The health of our rivers and streams equals the health of our state.

    To learn more about the State Water Plan, visit http://www.waterforcolorado.org and talk with your elected officials.

    Rachel Richards is a Pitkin County commissioner and former mayor of Aspen. Karn Stiegelmeier is a Summit County commissioner.

    Meanwhile, in other West Slope Colorado Water Plan news, the fight to prevent another transmountain diversion to the peopled side of Colorado is front and center. Here’s a report from Kattey Ortiz writing for KREXTV.com. Here’s an excerpt:

    According to the federal government, levels in Lake Mead are at their lowest since 1937. Lake Powell, a major source of hydro-power for a majority of the west, is less than half-empty.

    “It’s huge. It affects everybody, not just for water, but for the price of power,” said Ute Water General Manager Larry Clever.

    Clever is involved in a “roundtable” process for the Colorado Water Plan, specifically the Colorado River Basin, which serves Mesa County. The 9 roundtables of water basins throughout the state have approximately 30 members to represent the different aspects of their water use, including municipalities, recreational, agricultural and environmental.

    “All that work will be put together as part of the state water plan to look at the state as a whole and say, ‘Where are the big gaps and needs as far as water goes in the state?’” said Grand Junction Water Services Manager Rick Brinkman.

    The Front Range is asking for more water, and the Western Slope isn’t having it.

    “They think that we can build a project where we’ll take water only in our really good years. The problem with that is, it’s the really good years that help us in Lake Powell,” said Clever…

    Clever is also worried that since the west is already shipping enough water to the south, they won’t be able to meet their own needs for water if more is diverted to the east.

    According to Brinkman, the Bureau of Reclamation also uses the money generated from hydro-power at Lake Powell to run other reservoirs, including managing and hiring staff. This too, could be at risk.

    Still, there’s a chance the eastern half of Colorado will advocate for a trans-mountain diversion in the state water plan.

    “It’s going to end up as a fight at some point,” Clever said. “They’re going to say, ‘We’re going to build it.’ And we’re going to be sitting there saying, ‘No.'”

    Plans from all the basins will be submitted to the Water Conservation Board next week, and Governor Hickenlooper won’t see a plan on his desk until December of this year. Any sort of plan won’t be finalized until 2015, and permits to move forward with a trans-mountain diversion could take another 20-40 years.

    From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

    …business owners should be concerned, say experts helping form the Colorado Water Plan, because how the state decides to manage its water has major economic consequences.

    “Consider the value of water,” said Linn Brooks, general manager of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “Guests come here to enjoy our pristine natural environment, and water is really the centerpiece of that environment.”[...]

    As the experts explained, managing water in the West has always been a contentious topic. Before the past decade, there were no fruitful discussions on water policy, much less a consensus on future management, said James Eklund, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    He said that changed about a decade ago when groups began to come together to represent a wide array of interests and all of Colorado’s geographical areas. The goal is to address “the gap” — the amount of water needed by growing communities both in Colorado and the downstream states that depend on Colorado water, and the shortfall in how much water is actually available.

    “The good news is that we’ve acknowledged that problem, and it’s a challenge we’re working on now,” said Chris Treese, of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “(Our water sources are) not bankrupt. Our balance sheet is positive, but our income statement is bleeding red on an annual basis. We’re starting to look at solutions like reusing water. Other states have been doing this for awhile, but it’s still a new concept in Colorado.”

    In addition to the fact that many tourism industries directly depend on a good water supply — think ski resorts, raft and fishing guides and events like the GoPro Mountain Games — the cost of any business could rise if water becomes scarce.

    Treese explained that Colorado and the West has been in a 14-year drought (even with record snow years factored in). If Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop below certain levels, then the reservoirs will be unable to produce the same amount of hydropower. Also, the upper basins may have to cut its own water use in order to send the obligated amounts downstream to states such as California.

    “The estimates are that one year after the reservoirs stop producing electricity, power rates will quintuple,” Treese said. “Nobody wants to see that happen to any of their factors in their businesses and in their homes. Another factor is if we have to curtail our use here to meet our obligations to the lower basin. Both would be economically disastrous to the state.”[...]

    Some businesses are taking action by reducing their emissions and resources use across the board. Miller said that Alpine Bank was rated one of the “50 Greenest Businesses” in the state thanks to its energy reduction program. In 2006, the company aimed to reduce water use at its banks by 10 percent — to date, they’ve exceeded the goal and managed to reduce it by 30 percent.

    Larry Cavanaugh, president of Centennial Bank in Vail, said his bank is in the process of streamlining its resource use as well. As part of the local Actively Green 2015 program, the business is planning to focus on sustainability, an effort that includes reducing water use.

    “I think most people who live here recognize water as a limited resource, but I’m impressed that we appear to have a collaboration that recognizes a future problem. I’m glad we’re addressing this now instead of being reactionary. It bodes well for our state,” Cavanaugh said.

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Colorado’s water plan should look outside Colorado’s borders to meet fast-growing demands within, the head of the largest water supplier on the West Slope and the mayor of Grand Junction said Thursday.

    “There’s no water left to take to the Front Range,” said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, speaking at a discussion of the statewide water plan before an audience of about 30 people in the Grand Vista Hotel.

    The plan should take into account more than diversions of water to the east from the top of the Rocky Mountains, Clever said. It also should consider options such as diverting water from states that have a surplus, such as from spring flooding in the Midwest to helping fund desalination plants in California that would lessen demand there for Colorado River water, Clever said.

    The plan that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to see completed by the end of 2015 is “short-sighted” in that it envisions planning to meet the demands of 2050, Clever said. It could take decades to establish the kinds of relationships necessary to import water from other basins, such as the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Clever said.

    “It’s going to take 30 years at least,” Clever said.

    “There are other places to get water” than the West Slope, Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said.

    “I think you need to look outside the box and try something else,” she said.

    Clever and Norris spoke during a session on the plan sponsored by the Grand Junction, Rifle and Montrose chambers of commerce, as well as the Colorado Competitive Council and Accelerate Colorado, which represents business and local governments before federal agencies.

    The plan as envisioned now doesn’t include importation of water or other efforts, which he referred to as “augmentation” of the state’s water supply, said James Eklund, who heads up the planning effort as director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    “We’re not going to get bailed out by some basin that has water,” so Colorado has to look to better manage its own supplies, Eklund said.

    Colorado’s ability to manage its own water resources, however, is under pressure from other states dependent on the Colorado River, and the federal government.

    Federal efforts to acquire water rights from ski areas, control of groundwater and the extension of the Clean Water Act all show that the federal government is angling for a bigger role in water management in Colorado, Eklund said.

    “If we don’t have this conversation,” Eklund said, “then the feds or the lower-basin states are going to have it for us.”

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here


    Say hello to @Northern_Water #ColoradoRiver

    July 12, 2014

    Meanwhile, Northern is looking at big rate increases to coverage operations. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could rise from $28 to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and from $10 to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to documents from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District…

    The extra money is needed because Northern Water’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years. Property taxes, which have remained flat since the recession, make up more than half of Northern Water’s revenue, while water-rate revenue accounts for about 20 percent of its funding.

    The agency has coped, up until now, by drawing from cash reserves to fund its operations. Reserve funds are partly intended to help stabilize revenue but are not a sustainable funding approach in the long term, according to Northern Water.

    The agency’s board is expected to decide on short-term rate hikes through 2018 this month. These potential hikes to $52.70 for municipal users and $32.20 for irrigation users would represent the largest dollar increase in Northern Water’s history, although the district has seen similar, double-digit percentage increases in the past.

    “In the early 1980s, there were several years with double-digit increases, similar to what we are looking at now,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said.

    The rate hikes are essential to maintain infrastructure, according to Northern Water, and experts believe they will lead to additional water conservation. But the higher prices will put pressure on farmers…

    Northern’s customers receive water under two types of contracts: fixed and open rate. The new rate hikes apply to those customers who buy open-rate water. In June, Northern Water board members raised the open-rate assessment 9 percent for next year. The 2015 rate for cities will increase to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit. Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Roughly two-thirds of Northern’s water is delivered via open-rate contracts, while one-third is governed by fixed-rate agreements…

    Northern Water isn’t the only water district that has had to raise water rates. The Greeley-based Central Colorado Water Conservancy District, which supplies water to areas of Weld, Adams and Morgan counties, also has passed rate-assessment increases in recent years and plans to meet this month to consider additional rate hikes.

    “Our organization is looking at future (operations and maintenance costs) and how do we keep our finances up,” Central Water Executive Director Randy Ray said. “You’ve got regular operations costs like labor, electricity and gasoline for vehicles. Then you also have deferred maintenance.”

    The rate increases come as the nation faces challenges from deteriorating water infrastructure, which will cost more than $1 trillion over the next 25 years to fix in order to maintain current water service levels, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Customers will pick up the tab mostly through higher water bills.

    Similarly, users of Colorado-Big Thompson Project water will pay higher water bills as a result of the increased rate assessments. Increased revenue from the assessments will help fund Northern Water’s operations and maintenance budget, which accounts for almost half of the water district’s expenses. Northern Water says it needs to make major upgrades to water delivery infrastructure, much of which was built more than 60 years ago.

    Tom Cech, director of One World One Water Center at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said higher expenses and a rising population have pressured water supplies, leading to elevated costs. He noted, however, that investments in water infrastructure are critical to maintaining water delivery systems.

    “Look at all the investments that water providers did 100 years ago in our water system: new reservoirs, delivery systems and so forth,” he said. “That’s just the process of keeping up with the costs and population growth.”

    The Northern Board did pass an increase. Here’s a report from Steve Lynn writing for the Norther Colorado Business Report. Here’s an excerpt:

    The board of directors for Colorado’s largest water wholesaler Friday passed a historic water-rate hike in terms of dollars, representing a 202 percent increase for agricultural users and 90 percent for municipal users from 2014 through 2018.

    Customers of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District receive water units under two types of contracts: open rate and fixed. By 2018, the open-rate assessment for a unit of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project will cost $30.20 for agricultural users, up from $10 this year, and $53.10, up from $28, for municipal users.

    Fixed-rate assessments based on decades-old contracts will remain $1.50 per acre foot.

    Board members unanimously approved a steep rate hike for the open-rate assessments, though Colorado-Big Thompson Project water users had requested a smoother transition of increases over time. The rate hike through 2018 represented the largest dollar increase in the public water district’s 77-year history, though the water district’s board members has passed similar percentage increases in the past.

    The steeper rate hikes will help Northern Water more quickly achieve a balanced budget, said Jerry Gibbens, project manager and water resources engineer for Northern Water. The water district’s expenses have outpaced its revenue in three of the last four years, but Northern Water expects to reach a balanced budget by fiscal 2017 through the rate hikes.

    Based on decades-old contracts, the fixed-rate assessments remained the same, a point of contention among some water users who pay the higher open-rate assessments and contend that Northern Water should raise the fixed-rate assessments.

    Northern Water’s board agreed to look into how it could adjust the fixed rates in the future, but the agency has indicated that it may not be able to do so because they are set “contractually in-perpetuity.”

    In June, the board decided to raise 2015 open-rate assessments to $30.50 per unit while the agricultural rate will rise to $10.90 per unit.

    Under current projections, rates for Colorado-Big Thompson Project water could increase to more than $100 per unit for municipal users and to $80 per unit for agricultural users by 2023, according to Northern Water documents.

    Board members did not decide on increases after 2018, but they plan to set rates annually as well as make projections of rate adjustments two fiscal years in advance.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    Lake Mead: “The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office” — Las Vegas Review-Journal #ColoradoRiver

    July 11, 2014

    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean @RefriedBrean):

    Lake Mead sank to a record this week, its surface nudging downward a few tenths of an inch late Wednesday night to 1,081.82 feet above sea level.

    The last time the lake was this low, the town of St. Thomas still had a post office. In late spring of 1937, water from the once-wild Colorado River was still rising steadily behind the new Hoover Dam, inundating empty desert as it pushed toward Moapa Valley. By June of the following year, St. Thomas would be under water, but Mother Nature and human thirst couldn’t keep it there.

    In 1983, when the lake was as full as it’s ever been, the ruins of the town were under about 80 feet of water. Today, you can’t even see the lake from St. Thomas.

    The past 15 years have been especially hard on the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead has seen its surface drop by more than 130 feet amid stubborn drought in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. The unusually dry conditions have exacerbated a fundamental math problem for the river, which now sustains 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West but has been over-appropriated since before Hoover Dam was built…

    Wednesday’s record is unlikely to last. Forecasters expect Lake Mead to hit another new low today, then break that mark Saturday, and so on for the next several weeks.

    The streak of all-time lows should end by late August, when current projections from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation call for the reservoir to tick up slightly. Then it should inch down again, bottoming out sometime in November before starting back up as downstream water users cut their orders heading into winter.

    Bureau officials acknowledged this week’s milestone but said it won’t impact operations at Hoover Dam.

    “We will meet our water orders this year, and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” said Terry Fulp, the Boulder City-based director for the Bureau’s Lower Colorado Region. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”[...]

    Lake Powell, meanwhile, is expected to start next year 21 feet higher than it was at the beginning of 2014. Right now, the reservoir on the Utah-Arizona border is swelling by almost a foot a day as the last of the mountain snow melts into the Colorado River and its tributaries.

    Forecasters are predicting another big drop at Lake Mead next spring, as the lake stair-steps its way down to elevation 1,069, and below. By June 2016, the reservoir could hit 1,064, just 14 feet away from shutting down one of two intake pipes the Southern Nevada Water Authority uses to deliver 90 percent of the Las Vegas Valley’s water supply.

    With that in mind, the wholesale water agency is rushing to complete a new intake that will reach deeper into the lake. The $817 million project has seen its schedule slip by more than 2 years, but is on track to finish next summer.

    “We feel confident the third intake will be complete before we lose Intake Number One,” said authority spokesman Bronson Mack…

    Lake Mead’s decline has been a major headache for the National Park Service.

    For every two-foot drop in the water level, the shoreline can recede 60 feet or more. Already the shrinking reservoir has left some boat ramps high and dry, and has pushed marinas into deeper water or closed them altogether.

    A decade ago, Lake Mead was home to nine boat launch ramps and six marinas. Six ramps and three marinas remain open today…

    While access to the lake has grown more difficult in recent years, she said, there is still more than 125 square miles of open water and roughly 400 miles of shoreline to explore.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Another transmountain diversion garners skepticism on the rainy side of Colorado #COWaterPlan

    July 10, 2014

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

    Though Colorado River Basin water users strongly urge against any new trans-mountain diversions to the East Slope as part of a draft plan for the basin released last week, a key part of the process to create a state water plan recognizes a need to eventually have that discussion. In addition to further refining the basin plan itself, the Colorado Basin Roundtable has been reviewing a conceptual inter-basin agreement that outlines parameters for negotiating new diversion projects.

    “We do take the position that another big trans-mountain diversion would have a major impact on the Western Slope,” said Jim Pokrandt, chairman of the Colorado Basin Roundtable.

    Skepticism about new diversions is shared by other Western Slope basin roundtables, he said. But the Colorado basin in particular has placed a strong emphasis on setting the bar high for water conservation and exhausting other resources within the eastern basins before new diversion projects are considered.

    Last month, the Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representation from each of the state’s nine basin roundtables, finalized a draft conceptual agreement to submit to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for inclusion in the draft state water plan, due out by the end of this year.

    Basin implementation plans from each of the roundtables are being submitted this month, all of which will go to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    East Slope water interests have been adamant that, in addition to water conservation measures, protecting agriculture and looking at more water storage within basins east of the Continental Divide, the state plan must keep open the possibility of diverting more water from the Western Slope.

    The draft agreement outlines seven “points of light,” as Pokrandt referred to them, that would have to be addressed collaboratively and agreed upon before a new diversion project could be OK’d. Those include concessions by eastern Colorado water users that they not seek a specific yield from a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD), and would accept hydrologic risk for any new projects.

    Also, any new TMD project would have to come with an agreement that it be in conjunction with existing eastern basin supply agreements, aquifer resources, reuse and other non-West Slope water sources, and that specific triggers be set for when diversions can occur.

    Future West Slope water needs, including for recreation and environmental protections, would have to be spelled out in the agreement.

    “There are lots of questions about hydrology, environmental concerns and compact considerations that would need to be addressed,” Pokrandt said. “Nevertheless, this is a way to talk about a project among the different groups and all the questions that have to be answered.”

    The state faces legal concerns to make sure compacts are fulfilled regarding how much water makes its way from the upper Colorado Basin to downstream users in other states, he emphasized.

    Each of the roundtable groups is scheduled to give a presentation on its basin implementation plan at a Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Rangely on July 16.

    Even after the draft basin plans are submitted, they are likely to be undergo further revisions as the process continues to draft the state plan, Pokrandt said.

    “Compared to where we were four months ago, we have made a lot of progress,” he said of the Colorado Basin plan, which was prepared by engineering consultants with SGM in Glenwood Springs.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper, during an interview with the Post Independent last week, said one of the main goals in asking for a state water plan was to get East Slope and West Slope interests talking.

    “The most important thing that can come out of this is to establish relationships, and to get to know each other … and each other’s habits and behaviors,” the governor said.

    In any case, conservation will be a key emphasis, Hickenlooper said.

    “What we’ve always said is that any conversation in the state about water has to start with conservation,” he said. “We will have to work out some compromises, and there will be some ruckus, but we will work it out.”

    The Colorado Basin Roundtable meets again from noon to 4 p.m. July 28 at the Glenwood Springs Community Center to further discuss and refine the basin implementation plan.

    Also, the interim Water Resources Committee of the Colorado General Assembly is coming to Glenwood Springs on Aug. 21 to take testimony from citizens on the Colorado Water Plan process.

    That meeting will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs Branch Library at 8th and Cooper.

    For more information on the Colorado Water Plan process, visit http://1.usa.gov/1oIyjb0.

    Meanwhile, the South Platte and Metro Roundtables are ready to submit their basin implementation plan. Here’s a report from Eric Brown writing for The Greeley Tribune:

    After years of discussion, the river basin that faces the “biggest challenges” is nearing completion of its first draft of a long-term water plan. That outline of how agriculture, cities and industries will coexist in the future — while minimizing expected water shortages — will be available to the public next week.

    Sean Cronin, chairman of the South Platte Basin Roundtable, a group of water officials and experts who meet regularly to address water issues in northeast Colorado, said the combined draft plan from the South Platte and Metro roundtables is expected to be approved at a meeting Monday.

    After that, it will go to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which will begin piecing it together with the implementation plans of the seven other roundtables in the state, to create the comprehensive Colorado Water Plan that Gov. John Hickenlooper has requested be done by the end of 2015.

    It’s been a long time coming, according to South Platte and Metro roundtable members, some of whom met Tuesday to finalize the language in its draft plan. The basin roundtables across Colorado have been meeting since 2005.

    In the draft that will be completed soon are the major points northeast Colorado water officials and users have been driving home during the past nine years — protecting agriculture, water conservation, more water storage and keeping open the possibility of diverting more water from the West Slope, among other key points.

    While the group has reached consensus on those issues, there remains some dispute on others, such as how groundwater management might be addressed in the plan, and how municipal land use — which has impacts on water functions — might factor in.

    That’s why the South Platte and Metro roundtables want public input once the draft plan is available next week, possibly as early as Monday evening.

    All basin implementation plans are due by July 16. The South Platte and Metro roundtables pushed the deadline, likely because of the complexity and unique challenges in the basin — perhaps the biggest “challenges in the state,” roundtable members say.

    The South Platte Basin includes six of the state’s 10 top ag-producing counties, including Weld County, which ranks ninth in the nation for its value of production. Three of the other top 10 are also in northeast Colorado in the nearby Republican River Basin, which is impacted by South Platte basin functions.

    Also, eight of the 10 largest cities in Colorado are in the South Platte basin, including Denver and Aurora (which is why the South Platte and Metro roundtables are combining their implementation plans).

    Because of that and continued growth, the South Platte basin, which stretches across northeast Colorado from southwest of Denver to the Nebraska stateline, faces the biggest expected water shortages in the state. According to projections, there will be a municipal and industrial water-supply gap of as many as 190,000 acre feet (about 60 billion gallons) annually by 2050, with as many as 267,000 acres of irrigated farmground dried up by then.

    How will it all fit together?

    In addition to the challenges within the basin, members of the South Platte and Metro roundtables are concerned about how their plan will mesh with others and are worried that in trying to make all eight plans come together, some of the South Platte’s priorities could get lost.

    “With each basin having its own interests and each facing its respective challenges, it’s going to be a Herculean effort … to bring all of these together without something getting lost,” said Eric Wilkinson, general manager of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District in Berthoud, which oversees the largest water-delivery system in northern Colorado and is working to put in place more water-storage projects. “Each basin has put in a lot of time and thought into their plans, and to see something get lost along the way going forward would be tough for any of us.”

    South Platte Basin water officials have been particularly concerned all along that, because of its controversial nature, talks of bringing more West Slope water across the Continental Divide could take a backseat to other aspects of the Colorado Water Plan.

    The disagreement over trans-mountain water diversions between East Slope and West Slope water officials and users goes way back.

    About 80 percent of the state’s population lives on the East Slope ,but about 80 percent of the state’s water supplies — primarily snowmelt in the mountains — sits on the West Slope.

    To meet the needs of the growing Front Range and northeast Colorado’s robust ag industry, East Slope water providers have long built projects that bring water across the Continental Divide. There are now more than 30 such projects bringing about 450,000 to 500,000 acre feet of water each year from the West Slope to the East Slope. Many have stressed that without more water going to the East Slope, the ag industry, which uses about 85 percent of the state’s water, will especially suffer.

    But many on the West Slope have expressed concern and want the East Slope to stop diverting more of its water. The West Slope has its own water demands to meet, mainly its legal obligation to make sure several Western states downstream from Colorado receive certain amounts of water.

    Meeting those needs, while also contributing to those of Colorado’s East Slope, is stretching the West Slope thin, water officials from that part of the state say.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Lake Mead drops to lowest level since first fill #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    From the Associated Pres via the Cache Valley Daily:

    The projected lake level of about 1,080 feet above sea level will be below the nearly 1,082 feet recorded in November 2010, and below the 1,083 feet measured in April 1956 during another sustained drought. But U.S. Bureau of Reclamation regional chief Terry Fulp said water obligations will be met at least through next year without a key shortage declaration. The result will be full deliveries to cities, states, farms and Indian tribes in an area home to some 40 million people and the cities of Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

    “We will meet our water orders this year and we are not projecting a shortage condition in 2015,” Fulp said in a statement. “We continue to closely monitor the projections of declining lake levels and are working with stakeholders throughout the Lower Basin to keep as much water in Lake Mead as we can through various storage and conservation efforts.”

    The lake on Tuesday was just under 1,082 feet above sea level, and the reservoir was about 39 percent full, said Rose Davis, a bureau spokeswoman in Boulder City, Nevada. The dropping level since the reservoir was last full in 1998, at just under 1,296 feet above sea level, has left as much as 130 feet of distinctive white mineral “bathtub ring” on hard rock surfaces surrounding the lake. Davis said the bureau expects a slight increase in water level to about 1,083 feet by Jan. 1, 2015.

    “We projected this was coming.” Davis said. “We are basically where we expected to be, given the in dry winters in 2012 and 2013,”[...]

    Las Vegas, with more than 2 million residents and some 40 million tourists a year, is almost completely dependent on Lake Mead for drinking water.

    Federal and state water officials have negotiated plans for a shortage declaration triggering delivery cuts to Nevada and Arizona if annual projections for the Lake Mead water level drop below a 1,075 foot elevation. That projection is based on data currently being compiled by the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Davis said the 1,075 foot trigger point is not expected this year or next. But last year, after back-to-back driest years in a century, federal water managers gave Arizona and Nevada a 50-50 chance of having water deliveries cut in 2016.

    California, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming wouldn’t see direct cuts in their share of river water, but officials have acknowledged there would be ripple effects.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Rifle: “Many different eyes are on each [drill] pad each day” — Michael Gardner #ColoradoRiver

    July 9, 2014

    Rifle Gap

    Rifle Gap


    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rifle City Council unanimously approved an amendment to the company’s original 2009 watershed district permit to allow the activity, subject to conditions. The 12-square-mile, 8,000-acre watershed, approximately 5 to 6 miles southwest of Rifle, is the source of 9 percent of Rifle’s drinking water. The vast majority of the city’s water comes from the Colorado River. Several years ago, the city established the district and considers permits for certain industrial activities to help protect the water source. The company would also need drilling permits from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

    Michael Gardner, WPX environmental manager, outlined the drilling plans and noted various companies had been active in and near the Beaver Creek watershed since 1999. WPX is currently the only active company in the district. A total of 44 producing wells have been drilled from 11 pads in the district since 1999, with 27 of those wells located on a pad outside the district boundaries, Gardner said.

    “What we’re proposing is to drill up to 253 wells from 15 pads between now and 2018,” he told the council last week.

    WPX plans to drill up to 23 wells on the existing pad outside of the watershed and up to 112 wells on four new pads outside the watershed, but accessed through the watershed, Gardner noted. Up to 80 wells could be drilled on seven existing pads within the watershed and up to 65 wells on four new pads within the watershed.

    “A lot of this depends on the market price for gas, obviously,” Gardner added. “So this is a maximum-case scenario.”

    WPX would build access roads, install gathering and water lines and other associated facilities in the area, Gardner said.

    WPX spokesman Jeff Kirtland said in an interview Tuesday that the permit amendment was sought to keep the permit active, as it was due to expire soon.

    “It’s more to make sure we’re keeping up with what we need to do with the permit,” he stated. “So we would have this permit in hand if prices improved.”[...]

    Michael Erion, a water resources engineer with Resource Engineering of Glenwood Springs and a city consultant, said the amendment was acceptable and noted the target area is actually a tributary to Beaver Creek, which itself is often dry in the summer, so most direct activity in the district will be road crossings. The permit was amended last year to allow a water pipeline across the watershed and a temporary 1.5 million gallon water storage tank, Erion noted.

    Among the nine conditions already part of the permit and included with the latest amendment is a requirement for WPX to submit detailed drawings to the city at least 30 days before construction. New wells can be drilled on approved pads, provided WPX sends written notice to the city 15 days before that activity. WPX is also required to submit an annual activity plan for the entire district by March 1 of each year, and the project shall be subject to biannual inspections, or more frequently if needed, by the city and/or its consultants.

    WPX will also continue to participate in the city’s water quality monitoring program on Beaver Creek. This includes a periodic stream monitoring program with sampling at various locations along the creek and the operation and maintenance costs associated with a 24/7 monitoring system at the city intake structure on the Colorado River.

    “We understand how critical this area is to Rifle,” Gardner said. “We have all kinds of plans and procedures for spills, to protect groundwater and storm water control. Many different eyes are on each pad each day.”

    He also noted that no reportable spills, as defined by state regulations, had occurred in the district since 2008.

    More oil and gas coverage here.


    Colorado Parks and Wildlife: Event to honor builders of Ridgway dam and reservoir

    July 8, 2014

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter

    Ridgway Reservoir during winter


    Here’s the release from CPW:

    This year marks the 25th anniversary of the construction of the Ridgway dam and the establishment of Ridgway State Park. A special event to recognize those who worked on the construction project is scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 8 at the park.

    Did you work on the project? Or do you know someone who did? This includes former or current employees of the Bureau of Reclamation or other government agencies, construction workers, and municipal and county officials who assisted with the project. If so, please send your contact information via e-mail to: rhonda.palmer@state.co.us, or call her at 970-626-5822, ext. 11. You’ll be contacted about the event.

    Planning for the Dallas Creek Project, as it is called formally by the BOR, began shortly after the end of World War II. Construction eventually started in 1978 and the reservoir filled completely for the first time in 1990. The dam stores water for agricultural, municipal and industrial uses for the Uncompahgre Valley in western Colorado.

    One of Colorado’s premier recreational facilities, Ridgway State Park offers camping, hiking, bicycling, boating, fishing and swimming. More than 300,000 people visit the park every year.

    For more information about Ridgway and all of Colorado State Parks, see: http://cpw.state.co.us.

    More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.


    10 Things You Probably Don’t Know About the Grand Canyon #ColoradoRiver

    July 8, 2014

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Piñon Ridge Uranium Mill and Assets Set to Be Sold for $2 Million

    July 8, 2014

    More nuclear coverage here.


    Rifle: Bids for new water treatment plant blow budget

    July 8, 2014
    The water treatment process

    The water treatment process

    From the Rifle Citizen Telegram (Mike McKibbin):

    Rather than wait up to another year and risk even higher costs, Rifle City Council unanimously rejected two bids on a new $25 million water treatment plant and decided to proceed under a “sole source” approach.

    At a special June 25 meeting, the council also approved nearly $150,000 in project expenses, an application for a $2 million state grant to help purchase filters and equipment for the plant and the return of a $600,000 grant that was to help build a new main waterline connection to South Rifle.

    The action came after two bids for the project came in $8 million to $11 million higher than the city engineer’s estimate and the funds available to build the plant. Alder Construction, located in Salt Lake City, Utah, submitted a base bid of $33.1 million and PCL Construction, located in Phoenix, Ariz., with an office in Glenwood Springs, submitted a base bid of approximately $36.5 million.

    The city received a $25 million low-interest loan from the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, to help pay for the plant. Two years ago, Rifle voters approved a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to help repay the loan.

    Mayor Randy Winkler said the city had underestimated the cost of the new plant.

    “All building costs seem to have gone up greatly just in the last year,” he said. “So we were forced to really take a hard look at this project.”

    The project was originally designed to include improvements to the city’s raw water pump station, a new 24-inch raw water pipeline to the new 40,000-square-foot plant, a radio tower at the existing Graham Mesa water plant for remote data transmission of information about the city’s water system to the pump station and then by cable to the new plant, and connections to water transmission and main lines.

    City officials have said the Graham Mesa plant is aging, undersized to serve projected population growth and unable to meet possible tougher federal water quality standards in the future. Construction work was expected to last up to two years.

    More Rifle coverage here.


    Water policy briefing Thursday at Donovan Pavilion in Vail, RSVP by July 8 #COWaterPlan

    July 7, 2014

    eagleriver
    From email from the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District (Diane Johnson):

    Business community invited to discuss water policy principles

    Contacts:

    Diane Johnson, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, 970-477-5457
    Alison Wadey, Vail Chamber & Business Association, 970-477-0075

    Join the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Vail Chamber & Business Association for a business briefing on the Colorado Water Plan from noon to 1:30 p.m., Thursday (7/10) at Donovan Pavilion in Vail. A complimentary lunch will be served.

    Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered work to begin on the statewide water plan in May 2013; a draft is due to the Governor’s Office no later than Dec. 10, 2014, with the final plan complete by December 2015.

    Business leaders have developed statewide business community water policy principles to be part of Colorado’s Water Plan and are seeking regional input to finalize the principles. Working through local business chambers, this statewide initiative seeks local feedback on the principles, which address the business and economic development needs of Colorado.

    Thursday’s speakers include:

  • Tom Binnings of Summit Economics will discuss the economics of water from a statewide perspective.
  • Linn Brooks of Eagle River Water & Sanitation District will share local water operations and policy, and discuss needs in the Eagle and Colorado River basins.
  • James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the state agency tasked with drafting the Colorado Water Plan.
  • Bryan Blakely of Accelerate Colorado and Mizraim Cordero of the Colorado Competitive Council will discuss the business community water policy principles.
  • To ensure enough food for attendees, please RSVP to the Vail Chamber & Business Association at info@vailchamber.org or 970-477-0075 by tomorrow (7/8).

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Runoff news: Lake Granby spill imminent? #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

    Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

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

    Typically, reservoirs on the Front Range fill by May, which lowers Lake Granby enough to accept additional water during runoff season, said Kara Lamb with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But flooding on the East Slope in September, coupled with additional precipitation and runoff, have kept Carter and Horsetooth reservoirs, the Colorado-Big Thompson Project’s main draw points for Front Range water users, too full to accept much water. Add above-average runoff on the Western Slope to the equation, and there is a fair amount of uncertainty whether the Alva B. Adams Tunnel will have anywhere to transport water if and when Lake Granby spills.

    “There could be a little pumping to help with the spill situation,” said Brian Werner with Northern Water. “It’s dependent on this side of the mountains, and if there’s any room to put any water, so demands really haven’t started, and like I said, we’re full everywhere.”

    There’s a possibility that pumping could be halted until Labor Day, Werner said.

    For Grand Lake residents, pumping can mean the difference between pristine clarity and a cloudy lake. Last year, reduced pumping saw the clarity of natural Grand Lake increase, while the shallower Shadow Mountain Reservoir became more turbid…

    As of July 3, Lake Granby was at 2.6 feet from capacity, with levels rising around a third of a foot per day. Werner, of Northern, said if the lake does spill, forecasters expect it to do so between July 10 and July 14.

    “Our forecaster, who I just talked to, said we’re still 50-50 on whether we’re going to spill,” Werner said.

    Spilling is not a very common occurrence for Lake Granby. The last time the lake spilled was in 2011, and before that it was in 2000. The large amount of snowpack has led to above-average flows this year, and reservoirs on the Front Range are already near capacity. Specifically, Carter Lake is at 99 percent full, while Horsetooth Reservoir is 99.2 percent full, according to the Bureau of Reclamation’s website.


    Norwood infrastructure upgrades should help with water quality

    July 7, 2014

    norwood

    From The Norwood Post (Regan Tuttle):

    The Town of Norwood continues to make headway in water quality and availability. This past February, Norwood completed a major upgrade to the water treatment plant.

    “We just completed a big project that we did last year. We’ve added a filter to the water treatment plant to help with water quality. That took about a year and was finished in February,” Public Works Director Tim Lippert said.

    Lippert has been in service to the Town of Norwood — in public works, Norwood Water Commission and Norwood Sanitation District — for 22 years.

    According to Lippert, the EPA, through the Colorado Department of Health, has tightened the standards for drinking water over the years. As a result, Norwood’s previous water treatment system was not in compliance.

    Through many grants and low-interest loans, and the hard work of town officials, the water treatment plant is now producing more and cleaner and water than ever before…

    The latest addition features a new clarifier system that converts raw water through a chemical and sand filter process to produce Norwood’s best drinking water yet…

    Last year, Norwood also completed repair on the Gardner Springs water right. During that process, Lippert and his crew discovered damage to the Norwood Pipeline.

    The Norwood Pipeline will now be rehabilitated through grant funding made possible by Southwest Water Conservancy in Durango.

    “We had done exploratory digging there to see why it wasn’t producing. The pipe was smashed, and we are now replacing 600 feet,” Lippert said.

    According to Lippert, the plastic irrigation pipes may not have been bedded properly. Over the years, the weight of the mud collapsed them.

    “We couldn’t get water through it,” Lippert said. “And silting happened also because of restrictions.”

    The Norwood Pipeline project will include a flume with control valves for the purpose of measuring water flow. Water from Norwood Pipeline can then be diverted into one of Norwood’s two reservoirs.

    “We can then measure flow and divert it where we want,” Lippert said.

    More infrastructure coverage here.


    Conservation front and center in Broomfield

    July 7, 2014

    broomfield

    From the Enterprise Broomfield News:

    Broomfield offers two water conservation programs to help residents save water and money. Residents and businesses could qualify for an irrigation audit and/or rebates if they receive treated water from Broomfield.

    Free irrigation audits are provided by Slow the Flow Colorado, a nonprofit program of the Center for Resource Conservation. To schedule an irrigation audit, call 303-999-3820 ext. 217 or go to conservationcenter.org/.

    Water rebates help offset the cost to replace inefficient toilets and irrigation components. More information on rebates, including qualifying models and residential rebate instructions, go to broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=1098.

    More information on water conservation, including lawn watering guidelines, can be found at broomfield.org/index.aspx?NID=439.

    More conservation coverage here.


    “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on” — James Eklund #ColoradoRiver

    July 7, 2014
    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    Drought affected Lake Mead via the Mountain Town News

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    America’s largest reservoir, Las Vegas’ main water source, and an important indicator for water supplies in the Southwest — will fall this week to its lowest level since 1937 when the manmade lake was first being filled, according to forecasts from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

    The record-setting low water mark — a surface elevation of 1,081.8 feet above sea level — will not trigger any restrictions for the seven states in the Colorado River Basin. Restrictions will most likely come in 2016 when the lake is projected to drop below 1,075 feet, a threshold that forces cuts in water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, states at the head of the line for rationing.

    But the steadily draining lake does signal an era of new risks and urgency for an iconic and ebbing watershed that provides up to 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico with a portion of their drinking water. The rules governing the river are complex, but the risk equation is straightforward: less supply due to a changing climate, plus increasing demands from new development, leads to greater odds of shortages…

    Yet despite a shrinking lake, diminishing supplies, and ardent pleas from tour guides and environmental groups to preserve a canyon-cutting marvel, the four states in the basin upriver from Lake Mead intend to increase the amount of water they take out of the Colorado River. All of the states are updating or developing new state water strategies, most of which involve using more Colorado River water, not less.

    “We have mapped out how the remainder of our allocation can be used,” Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, told Circle of Blue. “It’s going to happen sooner rather than later. We have a place for every drop.”

    Utah — like fellow upper basin states Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming — is not using all the Colorado River water it was granted by a 1922 interstate compact. The four states have the legal authority to increase their Colorado River diversions.

    However, the water they seek may not be available. The calculations of availability stem from wetter hydrological conditions and supply forecasts made nearly a century ago. Under the 1922 compact, the upper basin is entitled to 7.5 million acre-feet. A later agreement apportioned each state a percentage of the available supply. The upper basin’s average annual use between 2007 and 2011, the most recent figures, was 4.6 million acre-feet.

    The legal entitlement, granted at a time when the river’s hydrology was poorly understood, is surely too high. All the states acknowledge that fact. “We’re not pegging our hopes or analysis on the full 7.5,” said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state water planning agency…

    The upper basin put forward a plan this spring to keep more water in Powell. The states would do this by paying farmers not to farm and by changing how smaller mountain reservoirs are managed. Three urban water utilities in the lower basin, along with Denver and the federal government, put up $US 11 million to develop a similar basin-wide program…

    Though the lower basin is using its entire allocation, the four upper basin states are not. They desire more water from the Colorado, yet exactly how much water is available is uncertain.

    The only concrete number to emerge so far is 5.8 million acre-feet of water available for the upper basin, or three-quarters of what was granted. That figure, called the hydrological determination, was developed by New Mexico and the Department of the Interior in 2007 as part of a water supply study.

    New Mexico is the only state using 5.8 million acre-feet as a firm number. Millis said Utah is using 6.5 million acre-feet of upper basin supply for its planning, and Colorado and Wyoming are looking at a range of values.

    Eklund told Circle of Blue there is “vigorous debate” both within and between states over what number should be used to assess water availability and what the acceptable levels of risk are as water use increases.

    “There’s a sliding scale of risk,” Eklund said. “The more water you develop, the more risk you take on. But that doesn’t necessarily counsel against a project.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


    Denver Water upgrading 50-year-old infrastructure at Dillon Dam

    July 2, 2014

    Morning Glory spillway via the USBR

    Morning Glory spillway via the USBR


    Here’s the release from Denver Water (Stacy Chesney/Travis Thompson):

    Beginning July 7, and ending in early 2015, Denver Water will be upgrading Dillon Dam’s outlet works facility, which houses the system that controls the flow of water from Dillon Reservoir into the Blue River. The facility’s gates are more than 50 years old and need maintenance due to normal wear and tear. The focus of the work is to restore the gates to near original condition.

    “We don’t expect this project to have much of an impact on traffic in the area, or on recreational users of the reservoir and the river,” said Jeff Archer, project engineer. “We’re working closely with county officials, as well as Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Fishing on the reservoir and the Blue River will remain available during the project.”

    A Denver Water contractor will carry out the work. The majority of the construction will take place inside the fenced-in area near the Morning Glory spillway toward the Frisco side of the dam road. During construction, the contractor will occasionally be moving heavy equipment — such as cranes, loaders, excavators and trucks — around the dam area. Daily construction traffic should not impact traffic around Dillon Reservoir; however, there may be limited traffic impacts when the contractor transports large equipment at the beginning and end of construction.

    In order to work on the gates, the contractor will reroute the normal flow of water around the construction in the outlet works using a bypass system that will redirect water into the Blue River while the gates are out of service. While construction activities are slated to begin in July, the bypass system likely will operate from August through December. The flows in the Blue River are expected to correspond with average flows for that time of year. In addition, a barge with a crane will be placed on the reservoir within the buoy lines near the spillway as part of the bypass system for a week in the fall. The barge will not interfere with normal activities on the reservoir.

    This $3.4 million project was previously announced in 2012, but was postponed due to drought conditions, which made the project not feasible because of the bypass system needed to carry out the work.

    More Denver Water coverage here.


    Union Pacific plans treatment plant for discharge mitigation at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel #ColoradoRiver

    July 2, 2014

    westportalmoffattunnel

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

    The Union Pacific Railroad announced on June 19 that it plans to construct a water treatment facility that will remove fine particulates and metals discharged in flows from the west portal.

    As part of its discharge permit, Union Pacific must meet preset effluent limitations by April 30, 2017. The new treatment plant will help Union Pacific reach compliance with those limitations.

    “It’s a victory,” said Mike Wageck, president of the East Grand Water Quality Board. “It’s definitely a victory for the river, if they’re going to be removing that coal dust that’s getting in there and removing those metals.”

    The way the tunnel is bored, ground water flows from seepages inside the tunnel, picking up coal dust left by passing trains and heavy metals leached from the railroad ballast and exposed rock.

    “This isn’t much different than a mineral mine,” said Kirk Klancke, East Grand Water Quality Board member. “If you just put a hole in the ground and have water leeching out, it’s going to carry the heavy metals you’ve exposed that have been buried for millennia.”

    The way the Moffat Tunnel is pitched, water flows from both portals of the tunnel. To the east, water flows through a sedimentation pond before it’s discharged into South Boulder Creek. But to the west, water flows untreated into the Fraser. In 2013, average daily flows from the west portal were 171 gallons per minute, according to an implementation schedule sent from Union Pacific to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

    The sediment in this discharge increases turbidity, or cloudiness, in the Fraser River…

    Slag, a by-product of metal processing found in railroad ballast, leeches copper, lead, mercury and arsenic, among other elements, into the discharge and ultimately the river, according to the implementation schedule.

    “Basically, from 2007 to today, we’ve been reviewing various ways we could treat the water coming out, primarily the water when it comes out of the tunnel,” said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union Pacific.

    Union Pacific examined a number of options for reaching compliance with effluent levels in the discharge, including diverting the water to publicly-owned treatment works in Winter Park, though the town ultimately decided that it would not benefit from receiving the water, pretreated or not…

    Davis said he wasn’t sure when construction on the facility would begin or how much it would cost, though the state requires that Union Pacific have something in place by its compliance date of April 30, 2017.

    More Fraser River watershed coverage here.


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