#ColoradoRiver supply concerns mounting — The Durango Herald #drought

September 29, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The water in Navajo Reservoir could play a role in meeting Colorado River Compact obligations in the event of continued drought, said Bruce Whitehead, director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Release of water to Lake Powell from Navajo Reservoir, Flaming Gorge Reservoir on the Green River in Utah and Blue Mesa Reservoir on the Gunnison River is one of three measures his district and the Colorado River District want implemented if water storage in the network that supplies seven Western states approaches crisis level, Whitehead said.

The other measures call for increasing the amount of water available and, lastly, reducing use.

“We’re not in crisis now,” Whitehead said. “The 2013-2014 water year has been almost normal as far as the amount of water in Lake Powell.

“But the reality is that in spite of some good water years, we’re in a 15-year drought,” Whitehead said. “We need a plan to meet a crisis if the same conditions continue.”

The three measures to meet a critical water shortage came out of a recent meeting of Southwestern and the Colorado River District, which between them cover the Western Slope.

The recommendations went to the Upper Colorado River Commission, which regulates water matters in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, the Upper Basin states that supply Arizona, Nevada and California, the Lower Basin states…

The concern about Lake Powell is that if water drops below the level needed to generate electricity, federal agencies would lose $120 million a year in power sales.

The revenue from power sales funds among other things environmental programs such as protecting fish species in the San Juan River, Whitehead said.

If the water level in Lake Powell allows generation of power, there should be enough water to satisfy the 1922 Colorado River Compact, Whitehead said.

Again, Whitehead said, Lake Powell and Lake Mead aren’t at critical levels. But the Upper Colorado River Commission and counterparts in Lower Basin states are looking at what-if situations.

Thus, the recommendations from his district and the Colorado River District, Whitehead said…

Measures to increase the amount of water available through cloud seeding, removal of water-hungry nonnative vegetation such tamarisk and Russian olive and evaporation-containment methods are a first step, Whitehead said.

A second early step, Whitehead said, would be the release to Lake Powell of water from Navajo, Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge reservoirs which, respectively, have acre-feet capacities of 1.7 million, 829,500 and 3.79 million.

The contributions of Navajo and Blue Mesa could be less than optimal because of contractual obligations, Whitehead said. Blue Mesa also generates electricity.

If the first two steps aren’t enough, water users would be affected directly, Whitehead said. The consumption of cities and agricultural users would be reduced. Fallowing of fields also could be required.

The two commissions said if water for agriculture is reduced, the loss must be shared by Colorado River water users on the Front Range.

Front Range users receive 500,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water a year from Colorado River transmountain diversions, Whitehead said.

Another transmountain diversion sends 90,000 to 100,000 acre-feet a year to the San Juan/Chama Project from the Blanco and Navajo rivers, Whitehead said. Users in Santa Fe and Albuquerque benefit.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Water: Does the Colorado River compact need tweaking?

September 27, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

‘Demand-cap’ concept could avert a compact call

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

The time to address water planning is before the reservoir run dry.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Water managers in the Southwest are considering all sorts of options to address what is expected to become a huge shortage of water in the Colorado River Basin. But one path they haven’t explored in detail is a fundamental re-allocation of water between the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states.

That reluctance is understandable. Since 1922, the Colorado River Compact has functioned to the satisfaction of all the states using Colorado River Water. But persistently lower-than-average flows, the looming threat of an overall shortage and the uncertainties of climate change may require a new way of thinking, said Doug Kenney, head of the Colorado River Governance Initiative.

View original 1,029 more words


With Close to Average Runoff, Lake Mead Holds Its Own in Late Summer — Rocky Mountain PBS #ColoradoRiver

September 23, 2014
Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

Lake Mead water levels via NOAA

From Rocky Mountain PBS (Jim Trotter):

The surface elevation of Lake Mead reached the historic low of 1,081.75 feet above sea level during the week of July 7, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. On Aug. 13, the bureau reported the level at 1,080. But as of Wednesday, it had inched back to 1,081.31.

This is all being closely watched by the seven states and Mexico that share Colorado River water. Should Mead fall to 1,075 feet it would trigger a declared shortage on the river, at which point water deliveries could be impacted.

The lake has dropped 128 feet since 2000, during the prolonged drought over big stretches of both the upper and lower basins. But the Upper Colorado River Basin runoff this spring and summer was 94 percent of average, compared to only 47 percent in 2013 and 45 percent in 2012.

Last month, the bureau said it expected a release to Mead from upstream Lake Powell of 8.23 million acre feet during water year 2015, an improvement on the 7.48 million acre feet for water year 2014…

But even with enhanced deliveries from Lake Powell, the bureau has projected that Mead will continue to fall in 2015.

In an interview with Rocky Mountain PBS I-News, Brad Udall, a Western water expert and senior fellow at the University of Colorado School of Law, summed up Lake Mead’s dilemma.

“The problem with Lake Mead is that it’s overused by 1.2 million acre feet every year,” Udall said. “With increased demands and with climate change, it’s a double wallop. What do we do with this 1.2 million acre-feet deficit?”

Ultimately, it might mean revisiting “the Law of the River,” the infinitely complex and arcane set of rules that govern the river’s use, starting with the Colorado River Compact of 1922, and changed by many agreements, lawsuits and rulings since, including acts of Congress and a Supreme Court decree.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“If you look at the 14-year drought, Lake Powell has performed well” — Eric Millis #ColoradoRiver

August 25, 2014


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Drought is nothing new to the arid West. It’s just never been witnessed by this many people. Vast swatches of Colorado burned in 2012-13, and California, Oregon and Washington are experiencing one of the worst fire seasons in history this year. In the Colorado River basin, Lake Mead is at the lowest levels since it first filled, while Lake Powell is approaching levels too low to generate power. So Western states, like Colorado, are emphasizing drought planning.

“What happens if the drought continues?” asked John McClow, president of the Colorado Water Congress.

To answer the question, water planners from other states in the Colorado River basin were invited to address the group’s summer conference.

“We have to come together as a basin to decide what happens after 2026,” said Tom McCann, assistant director of the Central Arizona Project. “The first thing is the lower basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) need to reduce their use.”

CAP stands to lose one-fifth of its supply in a continued drought under temporary guidelines agreed to by states in 2007. To cope, Arizona has implemented conservation, underground storage and weather modification programs.

“We’ve been in a drought emergency since January,” said Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, where more than 4,000 fires have occurred this year.

California voters will decide whether the state will issue $7.5 billion in bonds for water projects in this year’s elections. Already, the state has fallowed 800,000 acres of farm ground and imposed mandatory water restrictions statewide.

Utah is alarmed by the reduction in levels in Lake Powell that threaten power production, said Eric Millis of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The state is contemplating a project that would build a pipeline from Lake Powell to serve municipal needs.

“If you look at the 14-year drought, Lake Powell has performed well,” Millis said.

But the downward trend in lake levels has continued after a brief spike in the record wet year of 2011.

In Wyoming, a cloud-seeding research program has been kept alive by donations from other states in the Colorado River Basin, said Steve Wolff, of the Wyoming engineer’s office.

The state is looking for the first time at using water from Fontenelle Reservoir — part of the storage system built to protect the obligation of upper states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) under the Colorado River Compact — as a protection against drought.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A three-year drought is nothing compared with the damage Los Angeles did to Mono Lake. But people are trying to fix that. Los Angeles expects to get just a fraction of the water it usually brings down off the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains this year, James Yannotta, manager of Los Angeles aqueduct system, told the Colorado Water Congress last week.

“We average 250,000 acre-feet,” he explained, adding that the city has other sources of water. “This year, it will be 40,000 acre-feet. This is horrible.”

The aqueduct system for the Owens Valley was completed prior to state environmental laws, and dried up agriculture in the area. But the extension to Mono Lake extension completed in 1940, 338 miles north of Los Angeles, became a lightning rod of environmental concern.

The level of the lake dropped 40 feet by 1989, and court cases and agreements in the 1990s required Los Angeles to restore it. The lake is three times saltier than the ocean, but Los Angeles captures the water from feeder streams in the closed system before it reaches the lake, Yannotta explained.

Half of the water Los Angeles used to take now stays in the Mono basin to address environmental needs. Formerly, 30,000-150,000 acre-feet annually were taken from Mono basin, but the level now is regulated by the level of Mono Lake. For the past few years, only 16,000 acre-feet have been pumped. That could be reduced to 4,500 acre-feet if the drought continues next year, Yannotta said. To make up for shortfalls in its traditional supplies, Los Angeles is looking at cleaning its contaminated groundwater supplies, reusing more water, capturing stormwater and conservation — strategies that will cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars.

Conservation efforts have kept water use steady, even though the population served grew by 1 million people in the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, Mono Lake is filling again, and streams in the Owens Valley below it are flowing as the giant city to the south reins in its thirst.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“We don’t want to demonize the Front Range” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

August 19, 2014


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

The soothing sound of the Colorado River as it meanders its way across Colorado’s Western Slope is the sound of a thriving economy, a fragile environment and also an impending crisis.

The state of water supplies in the arid West is volatile and forecasts are grim. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are at alarmingly low levels, while populations across the West are swelling past the capacities of current water supplies.

The Colorado River Basin is facing a battle of sorts as Colorado creates a statewide water plan. It’s a battle against time and against competing water needs, both here in Colorado and in lower basin states like Nevada and California.

Regionally, some view it as an Eastern Slope vs. Western Slope battle, although water officials are carefully shaping the public relations message as one of unity and collaboration. There’s a very real fear that exists west of the Continental Divide, though, that Colorado’s growing Front Range population is going to suck the Colorado River Basin dry. Some even say that has already happened…

“Population is still growing and there’s a need to find more water for municipal uses,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “We don’t want to demonize the Front Range.”[...]

…the state’s water planning has really been going on for over a decade, said Brad Udall, a research faculty member at the University of Colorado’s Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and Environment and former director of the Western Water Assessment.

Udall has written extensively about climate change issues as they relate to water resources but his passion for Western water began outside of books and classrooms. His mother took him down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in the early 1970s, paving the way for Udall’s future in guiding Grand Canyon river trips. After getting into environmental engineering at Stanford University and developing a passion for water issues, he also began working on climate change issues. That’s when he realized that climate change means water change. They’re one in the same, he said…

…none of the states want to go back and draft new laws based on the realistic flows, except for maybe California, [Glenn Porzak] said.

“If you go back and say, ‘We made a mistake when we negotiated, we thought there was 17 million acre feet.’ If you renegotiate, (Colorado’s) going to lose,” he said. “All water is political.”[...]

The major concern at Lake Powell is that it’s getting down to such a level that it will no longer be able to generate power, said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney based in Boulder who represents water entities and municipalities in both Summit and Eagle counties, as well as Vail Resorts.

“The cost of power is going to quadruple,” Porzak said of Lake Powell, should it drop below power generating levels. “Almost all of the Western Slope’s power comes from the power grid that’s generated off Colorado River storage projects. That hits the ski industry and every other industry if the cost of power goes up four times.”

It also hits the average citizen, who has been enjoying relatively cheap water at home, Udall said.

“You hear we’re running out of water and we gotta get more, but we’re running out of cheap water,” he said. “Water that people are putting on lawns, that shouldn’t just be free, it should come with significant costs. … One of the lessons here is that water is going to get more expensive in the municipal sector, and a little bit more in the (agriculture) sector.”

When prices are low, people over-use water, but when they’re high, conservation becomes a lot easier and more attractive. And conservation is a big theme in the first draft of the Colorado Basin Implementation Plan, which came out last month and will undergo several more revisions before it’s sent to the state later this year for incorporation into the state water plan.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

Nathan Fey’s passion for kayaking led him to a career in river conservation and water quality issues. As the Colorado stewardship director for the nonprofit American Whitewater, he’s watching carefully as the state progresses through its water planning process.

The state must address some major conflicts as it creates the Colorado Water Plan, he said.

“Sure, our population is focused on the Front Range, but the reason we all live here is because recreation is a way of life for us,” Fey said. “I think there’s a big disconnect for people in our urban areas about where their water comes from. They don’t understand that if they grow green grass, there’s less water in the river when they’re fishing.”[...]

Recreation along the Colorado River and its tributaries is a $9.6 billion industry, and that’s just within the state of Colorado. According to a 2012 study for Protect The Flows, done by the consulting firm Southwick Associates, which specializes in recreation economics, the Colorado River would rank as the 19th-largest employer on the 2011 Fortune 500 list based on the jobs it generates.

“People moved here for the environment — it underpins the economy,” said Jim Pokrandt, chair of the Colorado Basin Roundtable and the communications and education director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “Water in the streams is an economic driver in and of itself.”

The recreation-based economies in mountain resort towns depend on healthy streams for more than just the water-based activities. Indirectly, hikers, campers and mountain bikers, to name a few, also depend on healthy streams.

“That’s the value we’re hoping Colorado embraces, so the desire to push for another transmountain diversion is deferred for a long time, if not forever, in favor of using the water we already have to its highest and most efficient use,” Pokrandt said…

Pokrandt likens the process to economizing, just like any business would do during tough times. You look at internal expenses, in this case water uses, and you cut back…

With the Colorado Water Plan’s deadline more than a year away, the Colorado Basin Roundtable is polishing its plan to make sure it gets the point across that more transmountain diversions would be detrimental to tourism economies, the environment and agriculture…

In the mountains, many of the major water providers such as the town of Breckenridge, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, have senior, or pre-compact, water rights. The same goes for the Grand Valley and Grand Junction areas, said water attorney Glenn Porzak, who represents those entities as well as Vail Resorts and other local municipalities.

“The water rights really affected the most (under a compact curtailment) are all of the transmountain diversions,” Porzak said. “Fifty percent of Denver’s supply comes from the Dillon and Moffat systems and are post-compact. All of the Northern Colorado Conservancy District comes from the Thompson project, also junior. All of Colorado Springs and Aurora diversions are junior to the compact.”

When 75 percent of the Front Range supply comes from junior diversions, Porzak said it’s clear what municipalities will do: They’ll buy up more senior agriculture rights for the Western Slope.

More Front Range municipalities buying Western Slope agriculture water rights depletes rivers. When the water is diverted over the Continental Divide, it never returns to the basin. That affects flows, which affect water quality, stream health and the economic powerhouse that is recreation-based tourism…

The ski industry is the pulse of Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties during winter months. Water is the source of winter-based recreation, but the fact that it doesn’t always fall from the sky at the right times or in the right quantities means water must be taken from elsewhere.

Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts have bought and maintained important water rights since the beginning of each company’s existence…

Predictability like a start date for the season — something the company typically announces during the previous ski season — is crucial to lock in season pass sales. Without important water rights and water supplies, Hensler said opening for Thanksgiving might be impossible, and Christmas would even be a challenge…

Hensler points out that snowmaking is only about 20 percent consumptive.

“About 80 percent of the water we put on the mountain as snow melts and flows back into the streams — it’s a very sustainable use,” Hensler said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Bonus water likely for Lake Mead in 2015, but it’ll just keep dropping anyway — John Fleck #ColoradoRiver

August 14, 2014
Low Lake Mead August 2014 via Yahoo!

Low Lake Mead August 2014 via Yahoo!

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s key August forecast, out today (pdf),projects that there will be enough water in the Colorado River system next year to release a bonus pulse of 770,000 acre feet of water from Lake Powell down to lake Mead above and beyond the legal requirements of the Colorado River Compact. But even with that extra water, Lake Mead is projected to fall another five feet during 2015, flirting with levels that could trigger the Lower Colorado River Basin’s first formal shortage declaration in 2016.

How could this be? The Lower Basin is getting extra water above and beyond its minimum legal entitlement, yet Lake Mead keeps dropping?

It’s simple, really. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 Arizona v. California decision effectively allocates more paper water than there is wet water in the system, (click here for the wonky explanation of the mistake, and the fact that folks kinda knew at the time it was a mistake but ignored it) and as long as each of the Lower Basin states keeps using its full entitlement, Mead will keep dropping unless a giant climatic wet spell delivers magic extra water.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo gallery of the California drought from the Huffington Post. From the article:

With major wildfires burning six at a time, more than half of California now experiencing the most severe category of dryness and experts warning that even an El Niño year won’t be enough to redeem the west in 2015, residents of California and beyond must face the terrifying reality that the drought probably isn’t done breaking records — and it’s not something just farmers and firefighters have to face.

The Huffington Post asked readers to share photos through the hashtag #OurDroughtIsReal to show how the drought is affecting them in their own backyards, literally. Here are some of the heartbreaking photos and stories you shared. Tweet @HuffPostGreen or use the hashtag if you have your own photo to share.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water” — Jim Lochhead #ColoradoRiver

August 4, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Colorado River System Conservation program is an effort to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought and water demands that exceed supply.

Denver Water, Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority each contributed $2 million and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation pitched in $3 million to create an $11 million fund for Colorado River water conservation pilot projects.

The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in agricultural, municipal, industrial and other areas. [ed. emphasis mine]

“Summit County has a huge stake in this with Denver Water,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO.

The county is a headwaters community for the Colorado River, and Lochhead said Summit shares a common interest with the utility in water conservation and in meeting collective obligations to the people and ecosystems down river.

One of the biggest causes for concern, he said, is the dangerously low water level at Lake Powell…

That has a host of consequences for communities up river from the lake, including increased energy bills due to less productive hydroelectric power plants, reduced agricultural output, diminished snowmaking capabilities at ski resorts, water quality issues and loss of funding for protections under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Plus, he said, “we might have to be cut off from our water supply in order to meet our obligations to the lower basin.”

Summit County especially would see the effects in Dillon Reservoir, which Denver Water constructed in 1963 to supply its customers in the Denver metro area.

“Dillon could be literally drained in that scenario,” he said…

“This situation is becoming increasingly critical. We are already dealing with unprecedented pressure on the southern California region’s water system,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “This innovative program is aimed at expanding conservation efforts from a local level to a collaborative system-wide program.”[...]

“I applaud the far sighted municipal water providers for beginning to address the imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River that could seriously affect the economy and the people who rely upon the river,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor in a press release. “There is still much work to be done, and the Interior Department is committed to supporting the efforts of the Colorado River Basin states and other stakeholders as partners in improving water management and operations, particularly during this historic drought.”

The program’s pilot projects will include residential and industrial water conservation programs and in the agricultural sector, something called “temporary compensated borrowing,” which Lochhead said would pay farmers not to irrigate or to irrigate less than they were.

The pilot projects are in the planning stages but should start next year, he said, and the two-year program will fund them into 2016. Successful ideas could then be expanded or extended.

To ensure that local concerns are addressed and that there is equity and fairness among all parties, the Bureau of Reclamation will manage the conservation actions in the Lower Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada in a manner consistent with past programs. In the Upper Basin, the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River Commission will have a direct role in program efforts.

Denver Water plans to do a broad outreach program and partner with agricultural and environmental groups, Lochhead said.

“I think it’s important that we engage all of those groups in this effort,” he said. “We just set up the funds. Now we got to figure out how to make it work.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


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