Colorado River Basin: Denver Water, et. al., are operating under the Shoshone Outage Protocol

April 4, 2013

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

Two back-to-back, drought-plagued winters in Western Colorado have triggered an agreement to “relax” a senior water rights call on the Colorado River at the Shoshone Hydro Plant to allow water providers to store more water this spring, a move that benefits Denver Water and the West Slope.

The Shoshone Hydro Plant is owned by Xcel Energy and is located in Glenwood Canyon. Its senior 1902 water right of 1,250 cubic feet a second (cfs), when called, is administered by the Colorado Division of Water Resources against junior water storage rights upstream that include Denver Water’s Dillon and Williams Fork Reservoirs, the Colorado River District’s Wolford Mountain Reservoir and the Bureau of Reclamation’s Green Mountain Reservoir.

The agreement “relaxes” the call to 704 cfs when river flows are low, or takes a Shoshone call totally off the river when flows are rising, which is the current situation. This practice gives the upstream juniors water rights holders the ability to store water once the spring runoff begins in earnest. Currently, the Colorado River is flowing through Glenwood Canyon at about 825 cfs. (The long-term historical average for this date is about 1,150 cfs.)

Two tripping points activate the agreement: when Denver Water forecasts its July 1 reservoir storage to be 80 percent of full or less, and when the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center predicts spring runoff flows at Kremmling in Grand County will be less than or equal to 85 percent of average. Currently, the reservoir forecast is 74 percent full on July 1 and the Kremmling forecast is 60 percent of average.

Denver Water has already enacted its Stage 2 Drought Restrictions to limit outdoor water use and enact other conservation measures.

The winter of 2012 was the fourth worst on record in the Colorado River Basin and 2013 has been tracking just as poorly. The only improvement between the two winters occurred in March 2013 as storms continued to build snowpack. By this time in 2012, runoff was already under way.
The relaxation period is between March 14 and May 20, in deference to boating season on the river and irrigation needs in the basin.

As for the water that Denver Water gains by the relaxation, 15 percent of the net gain is saved for Xcel Energy power plant uses in the Denver Metro Area and 10 percent is delivered to West Slope entities yet to be determined by agreement between Denver Water and the Colorado River District.

“This is a statewide drought, and we all need to work together to manage water resources for the health and safety of our residents, our economic vitality and the environment,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO/manager of Denver Water. “The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement and the Shoshone Outage Protocol are great examples of the partnership between Denver Water and the West Slope to do just that. Last year, even though the CRCA was not yet in effect, Denver Water released water to the river even though the Shoshone Power Plant was not operating and the call was not on. This year, under the Denver Water-Xcel Energy agreement, the Shoshone call will be relaxed.”

“Relaxing the Shoshone water right in this limited way benefits the West Slope as well,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “It might make the difference between having a full supply at Green Mountain Reservoir and not having a full supply. In a year like this every extra drop of water we can store now will help us later.”


Colorado River Cooperative Agreement implementation at hand

September 13, 2012

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Here’s a short report from the Associated Press via The Columbus Republic:

Colorado’s largest water utility and more than 30 western slope providers are expected to begin implementing an agreement balancing the Denver-area’s demand for water with the needs of mountain communities as early as next month. According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel a project spokesman said Tuesday a few more signatures are needed.

More Colorado River Cooperative Agreement coverage here.


Patty Limerick’s ‘A Ditch in Time: The City, the West, and Water’ book signing Wednesday on the CU campus

September 4, 2012

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Limerick is a terrific speaker and writer so I’ve been looking forward to her book about Denver Water for a while now. Here’s the book description from the Tattered Cover website.

“The history of water development…offers a particularly fine post for observing the astonishing and implausible workings of historical change and, in response, for cultivating an appropriate level of humility and modesty in our anticipations of our own unknowable future.”

Tracing the origins and growth of the Denver Water Department, this study of water and its unique role and history in the West, as well as in the nation, raises questions about the complex relationship among cities, suburbs, and rural areas, allowing us to consider this precious resource and its past, present, and future with both optimism and realism.

Patricia Nelson Limerick is the faculty director and board chair of the Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, where she is also a professor of history and environmental studies. She currently serves as the vice president for the teaching division of the American Historical Association. Her most widely read book, “The Legacy of Conquest,” is in its twenty-fifth year of publication.

Here’s a review of the book from Jane Earle writing for Your Colorado Water Blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The line [for a history of Denver Water] went back in the budget and, backed by Chips Barry, then Manager of Denver Water, it was passed by the Board. This time, the proposal was to ask Patricia Limerick, Colorado’s McArther prize winning historian, to write the history. And that was my idea. This time, it was [Charlie Jordan] who was incredulous. After all, Professor Limerick was not always kind to the white builders in her history of the West, “The Legacy of Conquest.” But that was why I wanted her: No one could accuse Denver Water of commissioning a coffee table book about the glories of its past if Patricia Limerick was the author. Chips was beguiled by the idea. The rest is history, as they say. This time, literally.

Professor Limerick doesn’t call her book a history of Denver Water. She subtitles it, “The City, the West, and Water.” It’s well named. She has set the story of some of the major events in the development of Denver’s water system in their proper geographic and historic context. The contributions of the people who built the water system and their legacy are stories that needed to be told. They were men of vision who could imagine a great city on the treeless plain next to the (mostly dry) South Platte River.

Here’s an interview with Ms. Limerick from the Colorado Water 2012 website.

More Denver Water coverage here and here.


Drought news: Drawdown of Wolford Mountain Reservoir an opportunity to inspect Ritschard Dam settling

August 23, 2012

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Here’s the release from the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

The Colorado River District, which owns and operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir, will take advantage of this year’s drought and resulting low reservoir water levels to further monitor movement at Ritschard
Dam.

As with all earthen dams, Ritschard Dam was expected to settle over time. However, over its 16-year life, the dam has settled nearly two-feet, rather than the estimated one-foot. This year’s dry conditions require drawing the reservoir down lower than most years in order to meet contractual and environmental demands for the stored water. Previous monitoring data suggest the settling rate slows as water levels decline. A major drawdown of the reservoir this year will assist in further assessment of the situation.

“The dam is safe. There is no reason for concern over dam failure,” assures John Currier, chief engineer for the Colorado River District. “There are no leaks; the dam is solid. However, we need to determine the cause of continued settling,” added Currier.

About Wolford Mountain Reservoir:

Wolford Mountain Reservoir is located on Muddy Creek, five miles north of Kremmling. It stores 66,000 acre feet of water when full. The reservoir primarily provides water to west slope contract holders when their water rights would otherwise be called out by more senior water users on the Colorado River. Water is released from the reservoir to protect Western Slope water users and to substitute for water diverted by Denver Water at Dillon Reservoir in critically dry years.

Water releases from Wolford also benefit endangered fish in the Colorado River near Grand Junction to enhance flows in the spring time and in late summer during times of lower flows.

Wolford was built in cooperation with and financing from Denver Water and Northern Water, both Front Range transmountain water diverters.

More coverage from Drew Munro writing for the Summit Daily News. From the article:

“This year is a really good test,” John Currier told Kremmling Town Board members Wednesday night, explaining that the reservoir will be drawn down 30-35 feet below full by the end of October.

“The reservoir hasn’t been drawn down like this since 2002-2003,” he added.

Currier, chief engineer for the river district, was at the meeting along with other district representatives to allay rumors that Wolford Mountain is being drawn down to prevent it from failing and to present a progress report about the ongoing investigation into why the dam is moving.

He said the reason the reservoir will be drawn down so far this fall is that Denver Water, which holds a lease for 25,000 acre-feet of “substitution water” annually in the 66,000 acre-foot impoundment, will release all its water this year. That, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use another 6,000 acre-feet this fall to augment downstream flows for endangered fish, he said.

In a “normal” year, he said the reservoir is drawn down about 10 feet. When that occurs, he said monitoring instruments indicate the rate of settling slows substantially. What engineers will be looking at this fall is whether there is a point at which the settling slows further or stops as the water level falls.

More Wolford Mountain Reservoir coverage here and here.


Colorado River Basin: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system?

December 25, 2011

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Here’s a guest commentary written by Eric Kuhn, David Modeer and Fred Krupp running in The Denver Post. The trio are issuing a call to arms of sort, asking for input for the Colorado River Basin Study. Here’s an excerpt:

Management of the Colorado River is a complex balancing act between the diverse interests of United States and Mexico, tribes, the seven basin states, individual water users, stakeholders, and communities. The challenges posed by new growth and climate change may dwarf anything we faced in the past. Instead of staring into the abyss, the water users, agencies, and stakeholder groups that make managing the Colorado River responsibly their business are working together, using the best science available to define the problem, and looking for solutions.

We’re calling our inquiry the Colorado River Basin Study, and we want your help. As Colorado River management professionals, we have a lot of knowledge and ideas, but we know that we don’t have them all. We want ideas from the public, from you, but we need your input by February 1. You can submit your suggestions by completing the online form at: http://on.doi.gov/uvhkUi.

The big question we need to answer is: What are the reasonable water management options and strategies that will provide water for people, but also maintain a healthy river system? We don’t believe there’s a single silver bullet that will resolve all of our challenges. We want to continue to explore the benefits and costs of every possibility, from conservation to desalination to importing water from other regions.

The West was built on innovation and hard work, and that spirit is still strong. Our landscapes and communities are unparalleled in their beauty, resilience, and character. The economic well-being of our rural and urban communities in the Colorado River basin is inextricably linked to Colorado River and its environmental health.

That’s why we are asking for the public’s input to help us craft a study showing a path forward that supplies our communities with the water they need to thrive and protects the health of the Colorado River-and the ecosystems and economies it supports.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


USGS: Simulation of Hydraulic Conditions and Observed and Potential Geomorphic Changes in a Reconfigured Reach of Muddy Creek, North-Central Colorado, 2001–2008

March 5, 2011

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Here’s the link to the report. From the USGS website:

Muddy Creek near Kremmling, Colorado, is a regulated, meandering, gravel-bed stream that has been monitored for geomorphic change since 2001. One reach of the creek was reconfigured using natural-channel design methods in 2003, providing an opportunity to compare hydraulics in this reach with those in a nearby, unaltered control reach. Streamflow in Muddy Creek has been regulated by Wolford Mountain Reservoir since 1995, but reservoir releases in 2006 and 2008 resulted in out-of-bank floods. The Muddy Creek monitoring program was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey from 2001 to 2008 in cooperation with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the streamflow modeling and analysis were conducted in 2008 in cooperation with the Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Minor changes in channel geometry were measured at monitored cross sections in the control reach between 2001 and 2008 and in the reconfigured reach between 2003 and 2008. Geomorphic changes were limited to lateral erosion in a meander bend and lateral erosion of an alluvial fan that formed a vertical scarp in the control reach. Some excavated streambed locations in the reconfigured reach have aggraded to their former elevations, and gravel on alluvial bars might have become better sorted and winnowed of sand-size sediment. Hydraulic conditions in the reconfigured and control reaches were simulated using the U.S. Geological Survey MD_SWMS framework and FaSTMECH computational models.

Elliott, J.G., Schaffrath, K.R., McDonald, R.R., Williams, C.A., and Davis, K.C., 2011, Simulation of hydraulic conditions and observed and potential geomorphic changes in a reconfigured reach of Muddy Creek, north-central Colorado, 2001–2008: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2010–5183, 43 p.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.


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