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.


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.


“Western Views” — news from Western Resource Advocates is hot off the presses

June 29, 2014
Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Yampa/White/Green/North Platte river basins via the Colorado Geological Survey

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

Earlier this month, Bart Miller, Water Program Director, joined a group of more than 20 national and local conservationists, water policy stakeholders, and other river advocates on a four-day raft trip through Yampa Canyon and Dinosaur National Monument as part of the Yampa River Awareness Project (YRAP).

Some YRAP participants did a fly-over of the Yampa Valley and Yampa Canyon to see the river and landscape from the air. Then the entire group spent the next four days floating down the 71-mile stretch of river from Deerlodge Park (west of the town of Maybell) to the Split Mountain Boat Ramp in Utah.

The trip was fun and informative. Rafts and kayaks crashed through waves at a whopping 20,000 cubic feet per second while the group learned about the Canyon’s geology, history, recreation, and habitat value for endangered fish. Discussions took place on potential threats to the river and how best to preserve the flows and integrity of the river’s bio-diversity and many other values. Each participant left with a better understanding of what needs to be done to preserve the Yampa and his/her personal role in that effort.

Bart’s take-homes included the benefits of: better aligning recreational and agricultural interests at the local level; creating an update to the management plan for the Yampa’s resource values; and spreading the word on the Yampa River’s unique and irreplaceable bio-diversity.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here.


Water Lines: Hydropower kicks off at nearby Ridgway Dam #ColoradoRiver

June 25, 2014
Ridgway Dam

Ridgway Dam

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

When Ridgway Dam was constructed on the Uncompahgre River back in the 1970s and 1980s, hydropower was anticipated to be one of its uses — along with providing irrigation water, drinking water and flood control.

Mike Berry, general manager of Tri-County Water (company operating the dam), continues to look for opportunities to start generating hydropower since 2002.

It wasn’t until this month, however, this vision was finally realized.

In June, Tri-County Water officially commissioned a new eight-megawatt generating station powered by water flowing through the dam.

Finding a customer to buy the power at the right price was the key allowing the project to go forward.

The $18 million project is financed through the City of Aspen. The agreement includes payment of a premium for the power generated by Ridgeway Dam for a few years of the 20-year contract in exchange for better rates later.

Tri-County will also sell power to Tri-State Generation & Transmission and the Town of Telluride.

The power generated by Ridgway Dam will vary seasonally, with peak generation coinciding with large summer releases of water to downstream irrigators. The Grand Junction Sentinel reported last week the plant will produce a total of about 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average year — enough to supply 2,500 average homes and eliminate 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The Ridgway Dam generating station was commissioned just one year after the completion of a 7.5-megawatt power generation project on the South Canal — carrying water from the Gunnison Tunnel near Montrose to the irrigators of the Uncompahgre Valley.

Both the Ridgway Dam and South Canal projects avoid the opposition previous hydropower projects faced because it’s installed on existing infrastructure and harvesting power from the regular operations of the facilities. As a result, irrigation deliveries are uninterrupted and no additional disruptions to river flows.

Interest in retrofitting existing water infrastructure to add power generation capability has surged in recent years. Both the State of Colorado and the federal government have made moves to support the trend with new laws to streamline the permitting process.

Finding customers for the power generated at affordable prices for construction is one of the key challenges faced by those interested in developing such facilities. Low prices for natural gas and the irregular supplies generated by such projects are complicating factors in working out power purchase agreements.

On the other side of the equation, renewable energy standards passed by Colorado and other states have created new opportunities.

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

A decades-long quest to convert the power represented by the 84,600 acre feet of water pent up behind the dam into clean, green hydropower came to fruition at a commissioning ceremony hosted by Tri-County Water Conservancy District [June 6].

Tri-County’s new 8 megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce approximately 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in a typical water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 homes, on average. The emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (the same effect as taking about 4,400 cars off the road each year).

Federal officials including Larry Walkoviak, the Upper Colorado Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton were on hand at the commissioning ceremony on Friday to praise the project’s merits.

But the folks who are really celebrating this historic moment are those who have steered the hydro project through choppy waters toward its completion including officials from Tri-County and the City of Aspen, which helped fund the project and is purchasing a significant portion of the energy it produces.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Green and grassy, Ridgway Dam looms high 15 miles southeast of Montrose, holding back Ridgway Reservoir. It’s flanked by a rocky ridge and U.S. Highway 550, with the Uncompahgre River bubbling up from the base of the dam to a prized stretch of trout water running through Ridgway State Park.

There is more to Ridgway Dam, though, than appearance.

“It’s not just a beautiful pile of dirt,” said Ion Spor, who has managed the dam for decades for the Tri-County Water Conservancy District.

Ridgway Dam is now generating electricity, eight megawatts worth during the height of the water year.

Tri-County — referring to Montrose, Delta and Ouray counties — commissioned the generating station earlier this month, marking the culmination of a project that was anticipated well before construction of Ridgway Dam, begun in 1978 and completed in 1987. Ridgway Reservoir filled in 1990.

The dam was built with hydropower in mind. Pipes were run through the dam in anticipation of someday being hooked up to generators, said Mike Berry, Tri-County general manager.

After years of debate, Tri-County opted to move ahead with the $18 million project. It reached agreements with Aspen, Telluride and Tri-State Generation and Transmission to get enough money for the project.

The station also generates power for the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the San Miguel Power Association.

As part of its agreement to purchase power, Aspen is buying renewable-energy credits created by the project during winter months. Telluride is purchasing the credits that are created by the project during summer months.

Renewable-energy credits represent the added value and environmental benefits of the electricity produced by the generating station.

Tri-County will use the revenues generated from the sale of the electricity and renewable-energy credits to repay loans on the project for the first 30 years and then to offset its operating expenses, Berry said.

Tri-County’s generating station contains two turbines and generators.

The smaller is a 0.8-megawatt system, which will operate solo during the winter when flows are low, in the range of 30 to 60 cubic feet per second. The larger, 7.2-megawatt system will operate on flows of 500 cfs during the summer.

Both generators are in a powerhouse at the base of the dam.

The plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes and eliminate the equivalent of 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

Now, Tri-County needs one thing to make the system work, Berry said.

“We’re counting on Mother Nature,” Berry said, “To bless us with enough water to repay the notes.”

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Hydropower used to replace flood irrigation and to lessen ag runoff and salinity

June 25, 2014

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine

Hydropower sprinkler system via Homelink Magazine


From ColoradoBiz Magazine (Allen Best):

And now come new efforts across Colorado to further yoke the power of falling water. One such example is near Yampa, a town between Vail and Steamboat Springs. The site is just a few miles from where the Bear River takes a sharp turn and becomes the Yampa River. On his ranch, Gary Clyncke decided three years ago to use the 126-foot drop in elevation of his irrigation water to power a new center-pivot irrigation system.

Clyncke’s hydro-mechanical center-pivot doesn’t produce electricity. It does, however, preclude the need for stringing up power lines to operate the center-pivot sprinklers. The sprinkling system, in turn, saves water — which is worth money. The 90 acres were previously irrigated with flood irrigation from ditches spread across the field of timothy, brome and clover several inches thick. Center-pivot irrigation requires just one-sixth the water.

That savings motivated Clyncke to invest in center-pivot. This hydro-mechanical system cost $13,000, of which $6,000 came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency. That left Clyncke a cost of $7,000. Payback on that investment is achieved in three years.

Federal aid is motivation, at least in part, because of concerns about salinity. When large volumes of water are applied to fields in flood irrigation, the water picks up salts that are then returned to creeks and then rivers. It’s a major problem on the Western Slope, where water can be used two times for flood irrigation before it enters Utah. Downstream in California’s Imperial Valley, an important source of food for the nation, some fields have become so salty they have been abandoned.

One of the most saline areas is in the Uncompahgre Valley, where Delta, Montrose and Paonia are located. An ancient sea left salts and the element of selenium in unusually large quantities in the Mancos shale. Both are harmful to endangered fish downstream in the Colorado River. “Anything that you can do that helps with salinity also helps with selenium, and vice versa,” says “Dev” Carey, manager of the Delta Conservation District.

Saving money is a strong argument by itself. Farmers spend an average of $33,000 each year on electricity, more than half of that to power irrigation pumps, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Using hydropower to operate these pumps doesn’t work everywhere. Farms near Sterling, for example, tend toward flatness. Still, the state agency estimates Colorado has untapped capacity in pressurized irrigation systems to deliver 30 megawatts in direct production of electricity or avoided electricity. To put that into context, it’s enough electricity for 12,125 homes, says Kurt Johnson, president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association.

More potential exists in irrigation ditches. Not just any irrigation ditch will do. It must have flows of more than 100 cubic feet per second, a relatively large volume. And there must be drops of at least 150 feet. When falls of that steepness occur, various devices are used to contain the force.

One such canal is located east of Montrose, where water from the Gunnison River is diverted through a tunnel that emerges near U.S. Highway 50. From there, the water flows through South Canal toward the head of the Uncompahgre Valley. In 2012, the Delta-Montrose Electric Association completed a project that had been talked about for more than 100 years. The two powerhouses generate electricity equal to what is needed for 3,000 homes.

In nearby Delta County, the state has identified nine sites on irrigation ditches where it would be economical to install small hydro systems, collectively producing 0.8 megawatts. That’s given current prices of electricity. Should electricity prices go up, as they have steadily, more potential would exist near Delta and many other locations.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.


Didymo outbreaks due to changing water chemistry in a warming world?

June 23, 2014
Didymo algae

Didymo algae

From The Crested Butte News (Seth Mensing):

For seven years he has sought the cause of widespread blooms of an algae known as didymo, or rock snot. Now longtime Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory researcher and Dartmouth College professor Brad Taylor finally has his culprit. And the invasive outbreaks might have an origin closer to home than once believed, taking the unaware angler off the hook and placing the blame for the suffocating algae blooms on bigger environmental changes, according to a paper Taylor published in the journal BioScience.

Taylor reports the algae Didymosphenia geminata was likely always present in even our most pristine streams and rivers, turning from an insignificant diatom into an asphyxiating blanket of goop as a result of changing water chemistry and a changing climate.

Taylor started looking into the occurrence of large and unprecedented didymo blooms while at RMBL in the summer of 2007, a year after the blooms were first documented.

“The work at RMBL figured prominently in the BioScience paper,” Taylor says. Didymo cells are in many rivers around Crested Butte and Gunnison and have been for more than 50 years, based on the research at the RMBL.

According to Taylor, didymo blooms have been observed in the Taylor River, West Brush Creek, Cement Creek, East River, Oh-Be-Joyful below and above the wilderness area and Coal Creek, as well as some unnamed creeks and more. But such large blooms are a new phenomenon, Taylor says. And for reasons still being researched, the didymo cells in Poverty, Slate, Rustlers, East Fork Crystal, and some other rivers don’t bloom in the way didymo has come to be known.

In his research plan on the RMBL website, Taylor says the second of two rounds of research, started in 2012, set out to answer four questions related to the didymo outbreaks.
First, he hoped to answer the question of whether or not timing and magnitude of runoff correlated with didymo outbreaks. He wondered if the outbreaks could be related to the presence of beaver dams or occurred more in lake-fed streams. What he found was an affirmative answer to his final question about the relationship between an outbreak and phosphorus levels in the water. Instead of the algae blooming in response to an abundance of nutrients in the water, didymo was extending its reach to gather what few nutrients were left.

Taylor doesn’t see any direct connection between low levels of phosphorous in the water and the abandoned mines in the area, since didymo occurs naturally in almost all streams, and blooms are being documented around the world. However, he said, the mats of didymo are trapping heavy metals that would otherwise flow freely downstream.

And while that might sound like a good thing, the heavy-metal-laden didymo will eventually flow downstream, Taylor says, potentially depositing the heavy metals en masse.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.


@AmericanRivers: Pretty crazy to see this water release over Morrow Point Dam in CO. Could be another 31 yrs before it happens again

June 16, 2014
Morrow Point Dam spilling June 2014 via USBR

Morrow Point Dam spilling June 2014 via USBR


Runoff/snowpack news: Good year to fill storage — if we had it to fill

June 10, 2014
Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

Northern Integrated Supply Project via The Denver Post

From CBS Denver:

Flooding along the Cache La Poudre River damaged nearly two dozen homes and businesses in Greeley last week, and according to officials at the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Poudre River does not have any dams or reservoirs specifically for flood control. But there is an effort underway to change that.

The Poudre River is full of melted snow — so much so right now that levels are well above average in Larimer and Weld counties, spilling over banks, and flooding homes and businesses.

“We could fill a reservoir in a year like this,” Brian Werner with the Northern Colorado’s Water Conservancy District said.

He points out farmers’ irrigation dams inside the Poudre Canyon, but says water cannot be diverted to those to prevent flooding. He says there is no reservoir along the river because the idea was unpopular in the past.

“I think the general public is more aware when they see these flows and saying, ‘Boy, couldn’t we just store a little bit of that?’ Which is what this proposal does,” Werner said.

Northern Water wants to build two reservoirs off stream that could store water during high flow times. Planners estimate the project would cost $500 million, including $40 million to re-route Highway 287 to make room for Glade Reservoir, and build a smaller one north of Greeley…

But the federal approval process is moving slowly.

“We’ve been working on this in some form for over 20 years, taking some of the flood flows here on the Poudre and storing it,” Werner said.

They do expect to get some news on the status of studies being conducted on the project by the end of this year. It’s unlikely building would start before 2018.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Several of the reservoirs that feed Northern Colorado are full, or approaching overfull, said Brian Werner, a spokesman for the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, which helps manage the reservoirs. Carter Lake, southwest of Loveland, is full, and Lake Granby near Rocky Mountain National Park is about to overflow, Werner added.

“We wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years a year ago,” Werner said Tuesday. Only a month ago, it was fifty-fifty if the reservoir would spill. “Now it looks like it will spill.”

Horsetooth is just 2 feet shy of being full, the highest the reservoir has been in late May and early June in the past six years.

The reservoir can hold enough to submerge 156,735 football fields in a foot of water. As of June 3, Horsetooth was holding 154,480 acre-feet of water, putting it around 98.5 percent full, said Zach Allen, a spokesman for Northern Water.

But what happens if Horsetooth does get full? The answer, Werner said, is basically “nothing.”

“We can control all the inflows to Horsetooth,” he said. Flatiron Reservoir and the Big Thompson River feed Horsetooth, and Northern Water controls all the outflows and inflows to the reservoir; Horsetooth’s water level can’t get higher than Northern Water wants it to, Werner said…

Lake Granby, on the other hand, is fed with snowmelt straight from the mountains. It’s levels are uncontrollable, and it could spill over any day now, Werner said.

“You can’t control what nature is going to do” with Granby, he added…

Northern Water for years has pursued an expansion of its water storage capacity to take advantage of plentiful water years. The Northern Integrated Supply Project would build a reservoir larger than Horsetooth northwest of Fort Collins. The proposal has drawn opposition from environmental groups and is in a yearslong federal review of its potential environmental impacts expected to be released late this year…

Much of Northern Colorado’s snowpack, around 200 percent of normal levels after an early May snow, has yet to melt, which brings the potential for much more water to come down from the mountains in the coming weeks.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We have seen the water level at Green Mountain Reservoir rise to the spillway gates as snow melt runoff inflows continue to come into the reservoir. As a result, we were able to increase the release from the dam to the Lower Blue River by 300 cfs today [June 9], using the spillway.

We are now releasing 1800 cfs to the Lower Blue.

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

The weekend went pretty smoothly for runoff here on the east slope of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Thunderstorms boosted runoff to the Big Thompson River slightly with inflow into Lake Estes peaking early this morning around 721 cfs. But this is still a downward trend.

As a result, outflow through Olympus Dam to the Big Thompson Canyon dropped today down to about 125 cfs. As we move into the rest of the week, visitors to and residents of the canyon will continue to see nightly flows rise with snow runoff, enhanced some by rain runoff, just as they have seen for the past week.

Deliveries to the canal that feeds Horsetooth Reservoir have brought Horsetooth back up to full. Its water level elevation has been fluctuating within the top foot of its storage between 5429 and 5430 feet. With it back up near 5430, we have curtailed the canal to Horsetooth and increased the return of Big Thompson River water to the canyon at the canyon mouth using the concrete chute. By 5 p.m. this evening the chute should be running around 300 cfs.

The drop off in snowmelt runoff inflows will allow us to begin bringing some Colorado-Big Thompson Project West Slope water over again using the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. We anticipate the tunnel coming on mid-week and importing somewhere between 200-250 cfs.

Once the tunnel comes back on, we will also turn the pump to Carter Lake back on, probably on Wednesday of this week. Carter’s water level elevation dropped slightly during runoff operations. It is around 95% full. Now that Horsetooth is basically full, Carter will receive the C-BT water. Turning the pump back on to Carter means residents around and visitors to the reservoir will see it fill for a second time this season.

Pinewood Reservoir, between Lake Estes and Carter Lake, is seeing a more typical start to its summer season. It continues to draft and refill with power generation as it usually does this time of year. This is also true for Flatiron Reservoir, just below Carter Lake and the Flatiron Powerplant. Both are expected to continue operating this way through June.

That is the plan we anticipate the East Slope of the C-BT to follow the rest of this week, June 9-13. We will post information if there is a major change; but as it stands now, I do not plan on sending an update again until next Monday. The state’s gage page is always available for those wishing to continue watching the water on a daily basis.

From The Crested Butte News (Toni Todd):

Word on the street this spring was that Blue Mesa Reservoir would be bursting at its banks this summer. Predictions were based on official and unofficial reports of above-normal river flows. However, a 2012 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has changed how local dams are operated in wet years, in deference to endangered fish species downstream. This new operational protocol will preclude the reservoir from filling this year.

“The reservoir is now only scheduled to reach a maximum storage of around 80 percent capacity in 2014,” said Upper Gunnison River District manager Frank Kugel. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) began blasting water through Blue Mesa Dam last week, with simultaneous releases happening at Morrow Point and Crystal Reservoirs, a trifecta of water storage and management that makes up what’s known as the Aspinall Unit.

The Record of Decision (ROD) states, “The EIS modifies the operations of the Aspinall Unit to provide sufficient releases of water at times, quantities, and duration necessary to avoid jeopardy to endangered fish species and adverse modification of their designated critical habitat while maintaining and continuing to meet authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.”

Given this new norm of operations adapted by the bureau during wet years, will Blue Mesa ever fill again?

“That’s a valid question, since the reservoir often does not fill in dry years due to lack of supply, and now with the Aspinall EIS, it will have trouble filling in wet years,” said Kugel.

“We all signed onto this because we agreed it’s important to save these fish,” said Colorado Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Species coordinator Harry Crocket.

According to the BOR’s website, an update written by hydraulic engineer Paul Davidson, unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa is 126 percent of normal this year, April through July. That’s 850,000 acre-feet of water entering the lake during the runoff months. “This sets the senior Black Canyon Water Right call for a one-day spring peak flow of 6,400 cfs, the Aspinall 2012 ROD target at a 10-day peak flow of 14,350 cfs… Reclamation plans to operate the Aspinall Unit to meet both the water right and ROD recommendations,” said Davidson.

The Colorado pike minnow, bonytail chub, humpback chub and razorback sucker are the fish that stand to benefit. The big flows are expected to improve the fishes’ critical habitat, at a time when the fish will be looking to spawn. Water will inundate otherwise shallow or dry riverbank areas, creating calm, sheltered spots for hatchlings, and heavy flows will wash the larvae into those areas.

The Gunnison River, said Crocket, was “mostly omitted” from the EIS as critical habitat. However, he said, “Historically, it was home to at least a couple of these species.”

“It’s a highly migratory fish,” Crocket said of the Colorado pike minnow. “It’s adapted to this big river system.”

It’s a system irrefutably changed by humans. Critical habitat for the Colorado pike minnow includes 1,123.6 miles of river, to include stretches of the Green, Yampa and White rivers, from Rifle to Glen Canyon, and the Yampa River to its confluence with the Colorado River.

“They [US Fish and Wildlife] did designate critical habitat [from the mouth of the Gunnison] to the Uncompahgre confluence [at Delta],” Crocket said.

The Colorado pike minnow called the Gunnison River home through the 1960s. “After that,” said Crocket, “it blinked out. It’s not been possible for it to be re-colonized.” A new fish passage at the Redlands structure, two miles upriver from the Gunnison-Colorado River confluence at Grand Junction, allows fish to make their way around the barrier and upstream, marking the first time in more than 100 years for those downstream fish to gain passage to the Gunnison.

Meanwhile, upstream, a form of collateral damage resulting from the big water releases at Blue Mesa worries Fish and Wildlife personnel. The number of fish sucked into and blown out through the dam is staggering. The technical term for this is entrainment.
“Bigger water years mean more water through the dam, and more fish entrained,” said Gunnison area Colorado Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Certainly, loss of kokanee with those releases is a concern.”

From the Vail Daily (Randy Wyrick):

Water levels and snowpack are 121 percent of normal, with as much as 40 percent yet to melt at some higher elevation areas, according to Snotel data…

Snow water equivalent at the Fremont Pass Snotel site, the headwaters of the Eagle River, had 15.1 inches of snow water equivalent on Friday morning still to melt and run into the river. It hit 17 inches on March 18 and kept piling up until May 17 when it peaked at 25.6 inches. It usually doesn’t melt out until June 18, Johnson said.

Streamflow on the Eagle River in Avon may have peaked on May 30, when the daily mean discharge was 4,110 cubic feet per second, which was 249 percent of median for that date. Thursday’s daily mean discharge was 3,650 cfs, 197 percent of normal for Wednesday.

Gore Creek in Lionshead may have peaked June 4.

“Having 20 to 40 percent of the total snowpack remaining in higher elevations in the Colorado Basin is good overall. It should help sustain streamflows through the month,” [Diane Johnson] said…

Copper Mountain still has 4.1 inches of snow water equivalent. That would normally be melted out by now, Johnson said…

Reservoir storage in the state is running 95 percent of normal and 62 percent of capacity. That, however, depends on where you are.


Video: Ridgway Dam hydro project commissioned — Telluride Daily Planet

June 8, 2014

Ridgway Dam

Ridgway Dam


From the Telluride Daily Planet (Heather Sackett):

On Friday, the Tri-County Water Conservancy District officially commissioned a new hydropower project at the Ridgway Dam.

The celebratory event included refreshments, tours of the powerhouse and a history of the project. The 8-megawatt, two-turbine, two-generator plant will produce about 24,000 megawatt-hours of electricity in an average water year, enough to power 2,500 homes a year with all their electricity needs. Construction on the Uncompahgre River project began in November 2012.

The City of Aspen and Tri-State Generation and Transmission are purchasing the power and Aspen is also buying the Renewable Energy Credits created by the project during the winter months. The Town of Telluride won a bid to purchase the RECs for June through September for $48,000. RECs are market-based instruments that convey the environmental value of renewable energy between buyers and sellers. Each REC provides proof that 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy has been generated.

Buying the RECs was a step toward achieving the Telluride Renewed Challenge, an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and for 100 percent of the community’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser says though those aims might now prove too lofty, the town still likes to lead by example…

According to a press release from the Colorado Small Hydro Association, the emissions reduction benefit from the new plant is equivalent to removing approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or about 4,400 cars from the road each year. Colorado Small Hydro Association President Kurt Johnson, of Ophir, said the Ridgway Dam hydro project is a great example of new hydro power on an existing dam.

“Only about 3 percent of the nation’s dams currently include hydropower,” Johnson said in a press release. “There is an enormous untapped opportunity to generate new clean energy using existing infrastructure.”

General Manager of the Tri-County Water Conservancy District Mike Berry said he is excited the project is complete and that it provided many local jobs during its construction.

“I’m glad we are coming to the end of it and the generator will be spinning for the rest of my life I hope,” Berry said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.


Crystal Dam spilling June 2014 via The Watch

June 6, 2014


Montrose: Gov. Hickenlooper signs HB14-1030 (Hydroelectric Generation Incentive)

June 6, 2014

microhydroelectricplant

From The Watch (William Woody):

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1030 into law Saturday, near the rushing waters of the South Canal, east of Montrose, where new hydroelectric generation facilities are creating megawatts of power.

The law directs the Colorado Energy Office to work in conjunction with federal agencies to streamline its review of new hydroelectric projects, decrease waiting periods and allow applications to clear federal and state review in as little as 60 days (without violating state environmental regulations).

Republican State House District 58 Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), who introduced the legislation along with Rep. Diana Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs), said he first brainstormed about the idea over coffee with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) at the Coffee Trader in Montrose last fall. The law mirrors the federal Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act approved by Congress last year (in conjunction with the Rural Jobs Act introduced by Tipton) and signed by President Barack Obama in August.

Hickenlooper said that although Democrats and Republicans “do not see eye to eye on everything,” this law is a great example of both sides working together to create jobs and boost the state’s renewable energy portfolio.

“This is an obvious opportunity to do something significant right now that has much more potential over the next five to ten years with these small hydro projects,” Hickenlooper said Saturday.

The law allows farmers and ranchers to offset energy consumption by adding hydroelectric generation to their existing irrigation infrastructure, which can take up more than 70 percent of their seasonal operating budget, said Ron Carleton, deputy commissioner of the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Coram said he and fellow lawmakers were acting as “advocates for agriculture” during the law’s development, and that the partnership between the Delta-Montrose Electric Association and the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association is a model for other projects, moving forward.

UVWUA Board President George Etchart said water from the 105-year-old, 5.8-mile long Gunnison Tunnel now has dual roles – both producing electricity and feeding the crops of the Uncompahgre Valley. “The water in this valley is the lifeblood of the this valley,” he said…

A pair of generation stations created onto the South Canal last year by the Delta-Montrose Electric Association are currently generating about five-and-a-half megawatts of electricity, capable of powering about 3,000 homes in the Uncompahgre Valley. At Saturday’s bill-signing, water from the 105-year-old Gunnison Tunnel was moving at about 950 cubic feet per second. Peak flows both plants are expected to produce between seven and seven-and-a-half megawatts. Last year DMEA produced about 16,000 megawatt hours of electricity from the South Canal project…

The Gunnison brings water every year from the Gunnison river through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to an expansive canal system that feeds 76,000 acres of farmland throughout the Uncompahgre Valley.

The South Canal projects are estimated to remove 270,000 tons of carbon from the environment and produce about 27 million kilowatt hours of electricity. Along with the 3,000 homes powered, the DMEA reports the cost savings from the hydro power drops about $2 million back into the local economy through annual savings.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


It’s O-fish-al, Federal Dams Ramp up River Flows to Benefit Endangered Fish on the Gunnison River — WRA

May 29, 2014
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit

From Western Resource Advocates (Bart Miller):

It was a snowy year in the upper Gunnison River basin. With high temperatures this week, snowmelt is accelerating fast. The roar of the river is back. Thanks to a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation two years ago, river flows now help improve the health of the Gunnison River.

Late last week, spring flows began to ramp up as did releases below reservoirs at the Aspinall Unit, in an attempt to meet target flows that will benefit endangered fish species in the lower Gunnison river. Western Resource Advocates supported the federal decision in 2012 that changed reservoir operations at the Aspinall Unit to increase river flows, and is excited to see the benefits that will result.

”The Bureau of Reclamation is doing a great job under the new reservoir operations plan,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director at Western Resource Advocates. “This year is a real test of the Bureau’s ability to make good on their commitment to get the river back into balance. So far, they’re passing the test with flying colors.”

The Bureau projects that, on June 2, 2014, flows through Black Canyon will be around 9,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). This will serve key functions like maintaining the river channel in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. In the lower Gunnison River, near its confluence with the Colorado in Grand Junction, flows may reach as high as 14,000 cfs, a target developed by scientists to benefit federally endangered fish.

As WRA posted on a blog last week: “Colorado now has a water-based recreation industry that—on the West Slope alone—is responsible for 80,000 jobs and over $9 billion in revenue each year. We have deeper knowledge of how essential water is for native fish and wildlife species, national parks, and other irreplaceable treasures. We want to continue to provide for resilient and profitable agriculture and communities, but not at the expense of recreation, tourism, and the environment.”

“Improving flows in the Gunnison is emblematic of what should be done in the Colorado Water

Plan and through each river basin’s own water planning: re-assess how we meet the needs of Colorado residents while protecting the environment and a growing river-based recreation economy,” says Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.


Releases from the Aspinall Unit to Increase Temporarily to Benefit Endangered Fish #ColoradoRiver

May 23, 2014
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation will begin increasing releases from the Aspinall Unit, consisting of Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal reservoirs on the Gunnison River, on May 23, 2014, as required by the Record of Decision for the Aspinall Unit Operations Final Environmental Impact Statement. The increased release will attempt to meet flow targets on the Gunnison River, designed to benefit endangered fish species downstream while continuing to meet the congressionally authorized purposes of the Aspinall Unit.

Beginning on May 23, 2014, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will begin increasing at a minimum of 500 cubic-feet-per-second a day resulting in flows through the canyon of around 9,000 cfs on June 2, 2014. Flows will remain at or above 8,000 cfs for 10 days before incrementally decreasing toward a range of 4000 cfs to 5000 cfs by the middle of June 2014.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Grand Junction: West Slope 5th grade water festival recap

May 20, 2014


From KJCT8 (Lindsey Pallares):

Western Slope fifth graders dive into learning about H-2-0 at the Ute Children’s Water Festival.

Nearly 2500 students from Mesa, Garfield, and Delta counties crowded the Colorado Mesa University campus on Monday to explore all that water has to offer.

Fifth graders attended lectures and participated in activities involving everything from water conservation to building and launching water rockets.

“The kids look forward to this all year, they know about in 4th graders and it’s almost become a rite of passage for the 5th graders here in Mesa County,” says Joseph Burtard of the Ute Water Conservancy District.

Water is one of the most valuable resources in Colorado and presenters want to ensure that the youth learn about its importance early on.

Presenters hope that by interacting with all the water professionals that contribute to the festival they’ll get excited about a future career in water.


Water Lines: Learn about Colorado and Gunnison rivers May 15 at Grand Junction City Hall #ColoradoWater

May 11, 2014

On Thursday, May 15, the Colorado River District and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University will co-sponsor the annual “State of the Rivers — Mesa County” meeting in the Grand Junction City Hall Auditorium at 250 N. Fifth St. There’s no charge to attend the meeting, and it will run from 6-8 p.m.

This year’s meeting will provide an opportunity to learn about and discuss the present, past and future state of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers in Mesa County. Light refreshments will be provided.

WHAT’S THE OUTLOOK FOR WATER USERS THIS YEAR?

The meeting will open with a presentation by Erik Knight of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on what this year’s snowpack will mean for reservoir operations and flows in the rivers. This winter, the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers enjoyed above-average snowfall for the first time since 2011.

Following Erik Knight’s presentation, Grand Valley Water Users Association Manager Mark Harris will present a slide show of historical photographs depicting the building of the Grand Valley Project, including the roller dam in DeBeque Canyon and the Government Highline Canal. This project, which began supplying irrigation water in 1915, greatly increased the amount of land under cultivation in the Grand Valley.

The meeting will conclude with an update on water planning efforts in the Colorado and Gunnison River Basins, which meet in Grand Junction. Mark Hermundstad — a water attorney with Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC and a member of the Colorado Basin Roundtable — and Frank Kugel — manager of the Upper Gunnison Water Conservancy District and a member of the Gunnison Basin Roundtable — will provide the updates and take comments from the public.

These basin plans will feed into a statewide plan that Governor Hickenlooper has ordered to be drafted by the end of this year. The plan is intended to show the way towards filling a projected gap between water needs and developed supplies as the state’s population grows.

For more information, visit http://www.coloradomesa.edu/watercenter.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here. More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting, April 24 #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

Apr 2014 Agenda


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 11, 2014

aspinallunitdescription

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning, April 14th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 850 cfs to 950 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 500 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Aspinall Unit update: The Uncompahgre Water Users are calling for water #ColoradoRiver

April 8, 2014
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning Tuesday, April 8th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 750 cfs to 850 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 400 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.


Gunnison Basin Rountable basin implementation plan focuses on agriculture #COWaterPlan

April 2, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Current efforts to develop a Colorado Water Plan have been largely driven by a large projected gap between urban water needs and developed supplies. Gunnison Basin water planners, however, are more focused on a current gap between agricultural needs and developed supplies. The water managers and stakeholders that make up the Gunnison Basin Roundtable are concerned that efforts to address the urban gap will negatively impact agricultural uses, whose importance goes beyond food production to environmental and recreational values.

In the Gunnison Basin, which stretches from the headwaters near Crested Butte, Lake City, Ouray and Paonia downstream to Delta and Grand Junction, the anticipated gap between municipal needs and developed supplies is relatively small, while the gap between agricultural needs and supplies is already large.

According to the latest statewide water supply study, the present gap between water requirements to fully meet crop demands and water available is about 128,000 acre-feet per year in the Gunnison Basin. An acre-foot is about enough water to fill a football-field-sized tub one foot deep. This is generally considered sufficient to sustain two to three average households for a year.

Agricultural water shortages are experienced in every water district in the basin. The district that includes the North Fork of the Gunnison River and Delta has the largest gap at over 75,200 acre-feet per year. This district also has the largest number of irrigated acres in the basin, with 90,200. The Lake Fork and Lower Uncompahgre districts have the smallest gaps, at between 2,500 and 3,000 acre-feet per year. The farmers of the 79,800 irrigated acres in the Lower Uncompahgre District benefit from senior water rights and upstream reservoirs, while the Lake Fork District contains just 16,500 irrigated acres.

Analysis conducted so far points to a need for additional upstream reservoir storage to support late-summer and fall irrigation. The Wilson Water Group, the consulting group hired by the Gunnison Basin Roundtable to assist with the basin plan, is conducting targeted technical outreach meetings to more precisely identify the causes of the shortages and identify potential projects to address them. Causes for shortages can be categorized as physical (insufficient water available), legal (water is present, but the irrigator doesn’t have rights to it), storage-related (insufficient late-season water), or efficiency-related (sufficient water could be available if managed more efficiently).

The focus on agriculture in the Gunnison Basin makes sense, given that the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s primary goal is to “protect existing water uses in the Gunnison Basin.” Agriculture (mostly grass and alfalfa hay, but also pasture, fruit trees, wine grapes and the famous Olathe Sweet Sweet Corn) accounts for approximately 90 percent of the basin’s water consumption. In addition to its intrinsic value, irrigated agriculture is also seen as supporting other valuable attributes of the basin’s landscape. It provides the aesthetic “open space” important to the basin’s growing recreational economy, and the flood irrigation for high hay meadows slows the flow of water downstream, supporting late-season streamflows. Flood irrigation also creates wetland areas that nurture birds and other wildlife.

Additional goals, supporting that primary goal of protecting existing water uses, include addressing municipal and industrial shortages, quantifying and protecting environmental and recreational water needs, and maintaining and modernizing critical water infrastructure, including hydropower.

The Gunnison Basin Roundtable has also put forward a number of “statewide principles” for consideration by other basin roundtables. These principles warn of the hazards of new water projects on the Western Slope and encourage conservation and the development of local projects to meet local needs. Those principles are a response to the perception that Basin Roundtables in basins east of the Continental Divide continue to look west for new water supplies, despite the fact that additional depletions from the West Slope could increase the risk that Colorado may not be able to meet its contractual obligations to the downstream states that share the Colorado River.

The basin roundtables are working to collect public input on water needs and priorities as well as to technically analyze supplies and demands. In order to learn more and take a survey to contribute your insights, go to http://www.ugrwcd.org and click on “Gunnison Basin Water Plan.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


The Spring 2014 Water Information Program newsletter is hot off the presses

March 31, 2014
US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

US Drought Monitor March 25, 2014

Click here to read the newsletter.


Aspinall Unit update: 350 cfs in the Black Canyon #ColoradoRiver

March 17, 2014
Fog-filled Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Fog-filled Black Canyon of the Gunnison

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Flows in the Gunnison River have dropped to ~350 cfs today to accommodate the sonar mapping exercise at the Crystal Dam stilling basin.

Maintenance and testing of both power generators at Blue Mesa Dam will also start today – this is scheduled to be finished within 10 days. During this time there will be no power generation at Blue Mesa Dam. In order to minimize the amount of bypass water at Blue Mesa Dam, releases at Crystal Dam will remain at 300 cfs until the Blue Mesa power plant is back online. Therefore flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will continue to be around 350 cfs until further notice.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Aspinall Unit update: 800 cfs in the Gunnison River below Crystal Dam #ColoradoRiver

March 9, 2014
Aspinall Unit via The Denver Post

Aspinall Unit via The Denver Post

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The March 1st runoff forecast for Blue Mesa Reservoir projects 850,000 af of inflow between April and July which is 126% of average. This represents a 35,000 af increase from the February 15th forecast.

Considering the wet conditions and increasing forecast, releases at Crystal Reservoir will be increased by 200 cfs on Friday morning, March 7th. This will bring releases and river flows up to 600 cfs. Then releases will be increased another 200 cfs on Monday morning, March 10th which will bring river flows up to 800 cfs.

On Monday, March 17th releases at Crystal will be reduced to 300 cfs for the day to accommodate an inspection of the stilling basin below Crystal dam. Flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will begin to drop to 300 cfs on Sunday before returning back to 800 cfs by Tuesday, March 18th.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Conservation easements are helping to keep water in agriculture

March 9, 2014
Lake Fork Gunnison River

Lake Fork Gunnison River

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

John McClow is general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and a member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy, which focuses its efforts solely on agriculture.

“We broker conservation easements to maintain working agriculture,” McClow said.

In the Upper Gunnison area, the organization has helped place easements on about 18,000 acres, which McClow said is a substantial percentage of the total area. Most of the easements have a financial incentive for the landowner, he said.

“Often, they will use the money to invest in more land,” McClow said, adding that it helps keep the ranch operation financially stable.

“Our easement activity has slowed a little bit,” he said. “We’ve pretty much picked all the low hanging fruit.”

The organization is getting into more complicated easements on lands that are more valuable and take more money, many being larger and closer to Crested Butte.

Gunnison County directs some funds from its 1 percent sales tax toward purchasing development rights, about $300,000 per year, according to Mike Pelletier.

“Typically, we’re able to fund what’s requested,” said Pelletier, who is the county contact for the program. “We have limited funds, and people just don’t ask if they don’t think we can fund it.”

The tax dollars were reauthorized in 2012, he said, and are used to match dollars from elsewhere…

“For every dollar we give to local land trusts, they attract $12 from outside” the county, he said. “By doing that you leverage a lot of outside money.”’

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

George is working on his third easement with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. He’s donating the value of the development rights in return for a state tax credit he will sell for 82 cents on the dollar, but his previous two easements went through Routt County’s purchase of development rights program, which pairs tax dollars with other funds to buy the right to develop the land and places the property under an easement dedicated to conservation.

“The benefit was we were able to keep the family ranch in the family,” George said about the easements, especially one in 2012 that was valued at $2.56 million.

The PDR program contributed $825,000 toward that transaction, about 31 percent of the total cost.

That money helped buy out other family members while George’s other easements allowed him to buy more land and pay down debt on parcels he’d already purchased.

“If I die or if we sell the ranch, it cannot be subdivided,” he said. “All these parcels will stay their size.”

George thinks more ranchers should look into easements on their property.

“They lack the knowledge,” he said. “They’re scared of them.”[...]

As early as the 1980s and during the push for major development in Pleasant Valley south of Steamboat, residents banded together in support of open-space conservation.

In the mid-1990s, these efforts gained momentum with Routt County ranchers placing conservation easements on their property and new county policies being enacted to preserve open space.

The effect of this work can be seen in the absence of development.

The drive down Rabbit Ears Pass into Steamboat Springs shows an open south valley floor where hay meadows still dominate the view. Colorado Highway 131 cuts through working ranches in South Routt County, and traffic on county roads still sometimes pauses to accommodate cattle being moved to greener pastures.

Preventing the fragmentation of agricultural land through subdivision and development keeps more land in production and helps maintain the working order of the landscape.

Splitting large tracts of agricultural land into ranchettes and subdivisions means introducing new neighbors to rural Colorado.

“They just don’t have a clue to what’s going on in the ranching world,” Routt County commissioner Doug Monger said about some people who live near land he’s leased for his cattle. “No one fixes their fence.”

Colorado is a fence-out state where landowners are required to maintain a lawful fence if they want to keep cattle out of their land. The cattle owner is not responsible for trespassing by his livestock if a fence isn’t maintained…

Gunnison County, another Western Slope county with a long ranching heritage, has seen the effects of agricultural fragmentation that arise from subdividing working ranchland.

“What happens is when they put in the road and building sites then turn over management of the property to someone who has no experience in the area, it disrupts the irrigation system within that drainage,” said John McClow, general counsel for Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy.

The Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy brokers easements for ranches in Gunnison County.

“It’s a disruption in the process that makes shortages much more frequent,” McClow said. “It’s not collaborative anymore.”

With flood-irrigated pasture, such as in Routt County, ranchers depend on water returning from their neighbors’ fields back into the river or ditches. Turning an upstream ranch into a subdivision or 35-acre parcels takes away return flows for the ranches below it.

Subdivisions downstream and closer to towns also pose challenges as the managers might be unfamiliar with how the river was managed in the past and place a call on the river if they aren’t getting their full allocation. Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, when a senior rights holder places a call on a river, upstream junior appropriations must stop diverting water until the senior right has its full allocation.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Michael P. Dowling/Chris West):

There is a nice bonus for Colorado in the Farm Bill that President Obama signed last month (Feb. 7). Senate Conservation Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bennet, D-Colo., fought hard for programs that will enable Colorado conservation organizations and local governments to partner with landowners to keep our state’s unique ranches and farm lands in agriculture. The new Agricultural Lands Easement program will provide grants to purchase conservation easements that permanently restrict development on important ranches and farm lands. These voluntary agreements will ensure that land stays in agriculture and continues to be an important — and growing — part of our state’s economy.

The predecessors to this program have already conserved more than 1 million acres of economically and ecologically important agricultural lands. The new program will easily double that total.

Senator Bennet joined Senate Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in leading the effort to pass this bi-partisan bill, working with other Colorado leaders, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Senator Bennett also changed the law to allow the agriculture secretary to waive a local cash-match requirement. This waiver will allow the program, at no additional cost, to protect the most important ranches and farmlands, even if they are in rural counties that don’t have the funding to match the federal grants.

But the question is: Why should this land conservation matter to the vast majority of Americans who are neither farmers nor ranchers?

While producing crops, livestock and other agricultural commodities for all Americans, properly managed working ranch lands and farms protect important habitat for our wildlife and fish; maintain cherished scenic vistas; and safeguard our water supplies and the water quality of our rivers. In addition, conserving these farms and ranches keeps farmers and ranchers on the land, and is protects an important part of our state’s economy.

Colorado has 29 land trusts that are members of the Land Trust Alliance, and they have protected more than 1.1 million acres using conservation easements alone. For example, more than 150 years of Colorado history — and a part of its future — were preserved when the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land completed an effort to protect 650 acres of the Hutchinson Ranch in Chaffee County. Protection of the Hutchinson Ranch was made possible by funding from the Farm Bill programs that Senator Bennet just improved, along with lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado and Chaffee County.

Though these lands — including such unique resources as the Hutchinson Ranch — are productive and important for agriculture, without action they are very much at risk. Non-agriculture development overtakes two acres of productive agricultural land every minute. But conservation easement programs ensure that our state’s most beautiful and productive ranches and farm land will continue into the future.

Near Rocky Ford in Southeastern Colorado, 12,200 acres of the Mendenhall Ranches were protected using Farm Bill conservation funding last summer. The Mendenhalls used the easement to secure the future for their ranch, which is almost entirely native shortgrass prairie, home to cattle and increasingly rare grassland wildlife.

That is why the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Lands Easement program makes both economic and ecologic sense for Colorado and for America. And that is why we should all thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in making the conservation programs in the Farm Bill work for ranchers and farmers.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.


Water bank for Western Slope irrigators? #ColoradoRiver

March 5, 2014

PalisadePeachOrchard

From KREXTV.com (Emily Fredrick):

he Colorado River District traveled to Montrose and Palisade Tuesday to speak with irrigators about the possibility of a water bank on the Western Slope.

The new concept would increase security for the Upper Colorado River Basin water supplies and reduce the potential negative impacts of persisting drought conditions.

“We live in a desert and all the fruit and actually all the houses and lawns and everything that are here in the Valley are here because of the water in the Colorado River essentially,” said Palisade farmer, Guy Parker.

“If Colorado is ever in a situation where we have to curtail our water usage in order to meet our obligations to our downstream neighbors under the compact, under our existing agreements that we could use those pre-compact water rights for post compact critical uses, health and human safety uses,” said Colorado River District’s Chris Treese, “When we go to them and say it’s time, we’d really like you to consider, and we’d like to compensate you, how much compensation will that take what does that market look like and will we have enough water if we put a marketplace out there. We’d like to sign people up on an option basis that you are willing to forgo either in complete or in part your historical irrigation in order to prevent a less attractive situation,” said Treese.

“I think it’s a really good idea to be very proactive because we do live in a desert and there’s not enough water to go around, we really have to be proactive and really have to be creative in our solutions to what we’re going to do,” said Parker.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


The Tri-County Water Conservation District is bringing on two hydroelectric generation stations at Ridgway Dam

February 24, 2014
Ridgway Dam via the USBR

Ridgway Dam via the USBR

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Over the past year and a half, two hydropower generators have sprung up at the foot of the dam: a smaller, 800kV generator that should run efficiently on the low, 30-60 cubic-feet-per-second flows in winter, and a larger, 7.2 megawatt generator to run on summertime release levels.

Next week, on Feb. 24 or 25, the smaller of these two units will be turned on and start producing a steady stream of green electricity, said Mike Berry of Tri-County Water Conservation District, the entity that manages the Ridgway dam and is building the power-generating facility at its base.

The big generator should be ready for testing by April or so, Berry said. When the project goes fully online later this spring or early summer, it will have a total plant capacity of 8 Megawatts – enough renewable power to run 2,250 homes and take the equivalent, in greenhouse gases, of 4,400 cars off the road.

Both units will operate during high reservoir releases in the summer, and only the smaller unit will operate during lower wintertime releases.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the wholesale electric supplier for San Miguel Power Association and the Delta-Montrose Electric Association, has built two short transmission lines at the hydropower plant. One will connect to the existing 115kV line running alongside the highway, and another will connect with the generating station.

Power generation will have to be carefully calibrated in order to maintain historic release patterns at the dam – one of the requirements of the Bureau of Reclamation’s final Environmental Assessment of the project – while maintaining healthy lake levels and maximizing power production.

In times of drought, the water rights of downstream irrigators, industries and municipalities will trump power generation…

Power generated at the hydro plant will be sold to two entities: Tri-State, and the City of Aspen. Tri-County WCD first started discussing a partnership with the City of Aspen in 2002. Eventually, this partnership evolved into a Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA.

In an agreement inked in 2010, Aspen agreed to purchase the wintertime output from the hydropower project, from Oct. 1 through May 31, for 20 years, to help further its goal of powering the city with purely renewable energy. Tri-State has agreed to purchase, for 10 years, the higher summertime output.

If projections hold up, about 10,000 MWh worth of energy will be “transferred” to the City of Aspen through the PPA annually (although it is doubtful that any of the actual electrons flowing into the grid from the new hydropower plant will travel that far). This amount is not set in concrete – Berry emphasized that there will be annual fluctuations in the amount of power that is delivered to Aspen, depending on a number of factors including whether it is a wet or a dry year, the timing of the spring runoff, and the demands of downstream water rights holders.

Tri-County WCD has secured $15 million in financing for the project – including a $13 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and a $2 million loan from Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority – and has sunk an additional $3 million of its own money into the project…

As the new hydropower plant at Ridgway Reservoir prepares to go online, legislation has been introduced at the state capitol to help streamline development of smaller hydropower projects throughout Colorado.

Last week, the Colorado House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB14-1030 by a vote of 62-3. The bipartisan legislation complements the recent streamlining of federal permitting requirements for small hydro through the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act.

HB14-1030 was introduced in the House by Reps. Mitsch, Bush and Coram. Senator sponsorship includes Senators Schwartz and Roberts as well as Hodge.

In essence, the bill “makes it possible to simultaneously complete federal and state review at the same time,” said Kurt Johnson, the president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association. It also seeks to streamline the electrical inspection process for small hydro, using precedents set in the small wind industry decades ago.

The Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the pending legislation on Feb. 27.

More hydroelectric coverage here. More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Reclamation Releases a Draft Environmental Assessment for Piping the Slack and Patterson Laterals

February 21, 2014
Rogers Mesa

Rogers Mesa

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it has released a draft environmental assessment on piping Roger’s Mesa Water Distribution Association’s Slack and Patterson Laterals off the Fire Mountain Canal, located in Delta County, Colo. The project involves replacing approximately 9.4 miles of unlined earthen laterals with buried water pipeline. The purpose of the project is to improve the efficiency of water delivery to ditch users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Basin.

The draft environmental assessment is available our website or a copy can be received by contacting Reclamation.

Reclamation will consider all comments received prior to preparing a final environmental assessment. Comments can be submitted to the email address above or to: Ed Warner, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation, 445 West Gunnison Ave, Suite 221, Grand Junction, CO 81506. Comments are due by Friday, March 14, 2014.

More infrastructure coverage here.


The Ridgway Town Council approves bumping storage in Lake Otonowanda to 600 acre-feet

February 19, 2014
Lake Otonowanda -- photo / Applegate Group

Lake Otonowanda — photo / Applegate Group

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

Located in Ouray County, about three miles south of Ridgway off of County Road 5, Lake O has been the Town of Ridgway’s primary municipal water source for nearly 100 years. The man-made lake is filled with water diverted into a natural basin via the Ridgway Ditch.

The Lake Otonowanda Rehabilitation Project will allow the town to exercise its full decreed storage right there by improving the lake’s capacity sixfold, from 100 to 600 acre feet, while restoring historic tunnel outlet works, which collapsed decades ago, to allow water to flow from the lake to town without having to be pumped.

The project is split into two phases, addressing tunnel restoration and lake excavation. Town officials had hoped to get started on the tunnel restoration phase last fall, but received only one response to a Request for Proposals issued in September 2013.

Hoping to attract more bidders, council and town staff agreed to broaden the scope of the contract to encompass both the tunnel restoration phase and lake excavation phase in a single package, and put the project out to bid in January.

This time around, there was a healthy response from contractors, with Town Manager Jen Coates reporting that over 30 people attended the project’s pre-bid meeting on Jan. 30; five of those companies went on to actually bid on the contract, with bids ranging from $1.4 to $1.9 million. The town budgeted up to $2 million for the construction project (bonding requirements put many smaller-scale local contractors out of the running, Coates said).

The Colorado Water Conservation Board awarded a $1.2 million grant/loan package to the Town of Ridgway last fall to help finance the Lake O project. In late January, the town applied to the Colorado River District for additional grant funds to cover a portion of the project construction.

More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.


Aspinall Unit update: 400 cfs through the Black Canyon

February 19, 2014
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Due to the increasing forecasts for spring runoff into Blue Mesa Reservoir, flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are now set at 400 cfs.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Redlands Water and Power Co. is asking shareholders to approve an increase in share assessments

January 18, 2014
Gunnison River

Gunnison River

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Low summertime flows in the Gunnison River and wintertime ice floes in the river have combined to grind down Redlands Water and Power Co.‘s finances. The squeeze has officials preparing to ask shareholders in the company to pay $20 a year more for their irrigation water, up to $145 from the current $125. That’s a 16 percent increase, but it also comes on the heels of four consecutive years with no increases, officials said.

“We probably should have had moderate increases for the last five years,” Redlands board Chairman Chuck Mitisek said.

Instead of increasing rates, Redlands used much of its fund balance, leaving the nonprofit company with about $100,000 in cash reserves. Redlands also has about $250,000 in emergency reserve, but it’s now time to rebuild cash reserves, Mitisek said.

Redlands Water and Power was founded to supply water from the Gunnison River to orchards on the Redlands, some 300 feet above the river. To get Gunnison River water up to its shareholders, Redlands employs a series of pipes and pumps, as well as a hydropower generator on Power Road that powers the system. Redlands Water and Power also relies on the generator to generate cash in the winter by pumping electricity into the grid, resulting in payments by Xcel Energy Co. back to the company. The generator, which was installed in 1933, is aging, but is still in operation. Ice can slow or stop it, resulting in reduced revenues, Redlands Superintendent Kevin Jones said.

Redlands Water and Power spent $27,000 more than budgeted last year to buy electricity from Xcel to operate its system while low water levels and ice took a share of electricity revenues, which were $83,000 below the amount the company took in 2010, company officials said.

To make up the difference, Redlands had to eat into its cash reserves. Officials will ask shareholders to approve the increase, amounting to $3.33 per month per share, at a meeting on Feb. 11 at the Redlands Community Center, 2463 Broadway.

The change doesn’t affect domestic water to the Redlands, which is supplied by the Ute Water Conservancy District.

Even with the increase, the irrigation water supplied by Redlands Water and Power is a bargain, Jones said, noting the amount of water it supplies over a six-month irrigation season.

“We’re asking for 145 bucks for a million gallons of water,” Jones said.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District ‘strongly oppsoses’ another transmountain diversion #ColoradoWaterPlan

January 8, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Crested Butte News (Seth Manning):

The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District has been busy developing a plan for future water use in the Gunnison Valley and, at the same time, watching other basins in the state to see where they expect their water to come from.

However, as the process of developing a statewide water plan starts to unfold, UGRWCD manager Frank Kugel said the conversation seems to be steering clear of the dreaded talk about trans-mountain diversion.

“Everyone acknowledged the 800-pound gorilla in the room—trans-mountain diversions,” Kugel said.

“For now everyone kind of decided to work around that.”

Basin representatives from around the state got together for a meeting hosted by the Colorado Water Congress in Denver on December 12. It was the first meeting of many to come related to the Colorado Water Plan and, more specifically, the Basin Implementation plans, which will be incorporated into the state plan over the next year.

“Once the plans are developed into a final draft form next July, we’ll present them to state water board for consideration,” Kugel said. “Then those plans will begin to be assimilated into a state plan, with an initial draft due by end of 2014.”

Kugel, who is also the chairman for the implementation planning committee for the Gunnison Basin Roundtable, says his goal for the process is to maintain water in our basin to be used, as it historically has been, for recreation, conservation and agriculture. And one of the best reasons to be close to the process, Kugel says, is to “make sure other plans do not put our plan at risk.”[...]

With a projected decrease in the amount of water that will fall in the state over the next 35 years and an increase in the state’s population, the plan is hastily being developed and battle lines are quietly being drawn, most noticeably along the Continental Divide…

“A key goal [of the plan] is to protect historic agricultural use and part of that is to minimize any future transfer of agricultural rights to municipal,” Kugel said. “So we’re very focused on keeping water on the land as it’s been done since 1875 in this basin.”
To help in developing its own Basin Implementation Plan (BIP), Kugel said, the UGRWCD hired Wilson Water Group as a consultant and has Greg Johnson helping them. He worked with the Colorado Water Conservation Board until July of this year.

“We feel very confident they bring a lot of expertise to this project,” Kugel said, adding the

Wilson Water Group is also the consultant for the North Platte Basin Roundtable. “At the same time they recognize the basin wants a bottom-up approach that is developed by our basin roundtable with help from all of the stakeholders.”

Having a plan that is written with an awareness of what other basins are doing could also help keep lines of communication open between the UGWRCD and other basins throughout the development of the Colorado Water Plan.

“[The state will] need to meld the basin implementation plans together to provide a basis for the state water plan and we will need to have clear conversations about how trans-mountain diversion might play into that plan,” Kugel said, making it clear that the UGRWCD would “strongly oppose” any attempts to divert water from the Western Slope. “Diversions from other basins could put ours in jeopardy … It could put us at risk of exceeding our compact allotment. So we have to be vigilant about how that process goes.”

Basin Implementation Plans will be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board on July 14.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Text of the Colorado Basin Roundtable white paper for the IBCC and Colorado Water Plan

December 3, 2013
New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Here’s the text from the recently approved draft of the white paper:

Introduction
The Colorado River Basin is the “heart” of Colorado. The basin holds the headwaters of the Colorado River that form the mainstem of the river, some of the state’s most significant agriculture, the largest West Slope city and a large, expanding energy industry. The Colorado Basin is home to the most-visited national forest and much of Colorado’s recreation-based economy, including significant river-based recreation.

Colorado’s population is projected by the State Demographer’s Office to nearly double by 2050, from the five million people we have today to nearly ten million. Most of the growth is expected to be along the Front Range urban corridor; however the fastest growth is expected to occur along the I-70 corridor within the Colorado Basin.

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Don’t goddamn come here [#ColoradoRiver Basin] any more’ — Lurline Curran

December 3, 2013
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

Here’s an article about the white paper approved last week by the Colorado Basin Roundtable, from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for Aspen Journalism. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

“Don’t goddamn come here any more,” was the way Lurline Curran, county manager of Grand County, summed up the roundtable’s position just before the group voted to approve a white paper it has been working on for months.

“We’re trying to tell you, Front Range: Don’t count on us,” Curran said. “Don’t be counting on us to make up all the shortages.”

The actual paper crafted by the Colorado roundtable states its case in a more diplomatic fashion, but it is still blunt.

“The notion that increasing demands on the Front Range can always be met with a new supply from the Colorado River, or any other river, (is) no longer valid,” the position paper states…

“There is going to have to be a discussion and plan for developing a new West Slope water supply,” the South Platte roundtable stated in a June memo directed to Committee.

Together, the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas roundtables are pushing that discussion. They’re asking the state to preserve the option to build “several” 100,000 to 250,000 acre-foot projects on the Green River at Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the lower Yampa River, and/or the Gunnison River at Blue Mesa Reservoir…

On Nov. 25, the members of the Colorado River roundtable clearly wanted to inform the Committee that they don’t support the idea of new Western Slope projects.

Jim Pokrandt, a communications executive at the Colorado River District who chairs the Colorado roundtable, said the group’s paper, directed to the Committee, was “an answer to position statements put out by other basin roundtables.”

The Committee’s eventual analysis is expected to shape a draft statewide Colorado Water Plan, which is supposed to be on the governor’s desk via the Committee and the Colorado Water Conservation Board in 12 months.

And while there has been a decades-long discussion in Colorado about the merits of moving water from the Western Slope to the Front Range, the language in the position papers, and the roundtable meetings, is getting sharper as the state water plan now takes shape.

“It’s not ‘don’t take one more drop,’ but it is as close as we can get,” said Ken Neubecker, the environmental representative on the Colorado roundtable, about the group’s current position.

The paper itself advises, “the scenic nature and recreational uses of our rivers are as important to the West Slope as suburban development and service industry businesses are to the Front Range. They are not and should not be seen as second-class water rights, which Colorado can preserve the option of removing at the behest of Front Range indulgences.”

That’s certainly in contrast to the vision of the South Platte, Metro and Arkansas basin roundtables, which in a draft joint statement in July said that the way to meet the “east slope municipal supply gap” is to develop “state water projects using Colorado River water for municipal uses on the East and West slopes.”[...]

The white paper from the Colorado roundtable states that “new supply” is a euphemism for “a new transmountain diversion from the Colorado River system.”

“This option must be the last option,” the paper notes.

Instead of new expensive Western Slope water projects, the paper calls for more water conservation and “intelligent land use” on the Front Range.

It goes on to note that Front Range interests are actively pursuing the expansion of existing transmountain diversions — many of which are likely to be blessed by the Committee because they are already in the works.

It says the Western Slope has its own water gap, as the growing demands of agriculture, energy development, population growth and river ecosystems are coming together in the face of climate change.

It calls for reform to the state’s water laws, so it is easier to leave water in Western Slope rivers for environmental reasons, and it rejects the Front Range’s call to streamline the review process for new water projects.

“Streamlining as a means of forcing West Slope acquiescence to any new supply project ‘for the good of the state’ is unacceptable,” the paper states.

Finally, the document advises the state not to endorse or get behind a Western Slope water project unless it “has been agreed to by the impacted counties, conservancy districts and conservation districts from which water would be diverted.”

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Reclamation Releases the Final Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact on the C Ditch/Needle Rock Pipeline Project

November 9, 2013
C Ditch photo via USBR

C Ditch photo via USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Terry Stroh/Justyn Hock):

Reclamation announced today that it released the final EA and Finding of No Significant Impact on the C Ditch/Needle Rock Pipeline Project in Delta County, Colo. The project involves replacing a total of approximately 14,669 lineal feet of open irrigation ditch with buried pipe. The project will improve the efficiency of water delivery to ditch users and reduce salinity loading in the Colorado River Region. Funding for the project is through a cooperative agreement between Reclamation and C-Ditch Company.

The final EA and FONSI are available on our web site or a copy can be received by contacting Terry Stroh with Reclamation in Grand Junction at (970) 248-0608 or tstroh@usbr.gov.

Construction is anticipated to be completed by spring 2014.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here.


Aspinall Unit update: Gunnison Tunnel diversions off until spring

October 31, 2013
Aspinall Unit

Aspinall Unit via The Denver Post

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

With the end of the irrigation season upon us, diversions to the Gunnison Tunnel have been shut down for the winter as of yesterday, October 30. Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced to 300 cfs today, October 31, at 11 AM. This will leave 300 cfs in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon for the winter months.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


Gunnison Basin Roundtable recap — What’s worth more: 50 houses in Lakewood or kayaking on Daisy Creek?

October 10, 2013
Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)

Big Wood Falls photo via American Whitewater (2011)

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

That question, or something close to it (I wish I’d taken better notes), was posed on Oct. 7 following a presentation by American Whitewater staffer Chris Menges to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable on the results of a survey of flow needs for whitewater recreation in the Gunnison Basin. That’s the kind of values question that will be hovering in the background as Colorado’s water leaders struggle to develop a plan that can stretch the state’s limited water supplies to meet its growing needs…

Water managers have long been accustomed to assessing water needs for crop irrigation and household use and factored that into their long-term planning. It’s only in recent decades that flow needs to keep streams healthy have begun to be taken into consideration, and an even more recent development to consider the flows needed to keep boaters happy.

Whitewater recreation has become a big business in Colorado, as well as an icon of the “Colorado lifestyle.” In the Gunnison Basin, commercial float trips were estimated to have added more than $6 million to the economy in 2011. The Colorado River Outfitters Association estimated that statewide, whitewater boating accounted for $155 million tourist dollars spent in that same year.

And so whitewater recreation advocates are now taking their place among other stakeholders wrestling with how to guide Colorado’s water future. According to an American Whitewater announcement promoting participation in their survey, it was designed to “help American Whitewater inform future management of the Gunnison River Basin, and build support for healthy river flows threatened by drought, development, and management policies.”

Generally speaking, the survey found that the lowest flows survey respondents considered worth a repeat trip were in the range of 400-800 cubic feet per second (cfs), while flows considered “optimal” ranged between 500-10,000cfs. Respondents tended to prefer higher flows on stream segments farther downstream in the basin.

Menges pointed out that these “acceptable” flows do tend to be achieved seasonally on most of the segments considered in the survey, and that maintaining these seasonal flows also helps serve environmental needs on these streams.

Roundtable members expressed some irritation with how the whitewater boating community has interfered with other land and water users in certain instances, but also expressed appreciation for data that could help bolster the case for the need to keep adequate water on the Western Slope. They made no immediate decision on what to do with the data from the survey…

What remains to be seen is how Colorado’s water plan will make choices between consumptive and nonconsumptive demands when there’s not enough water to satisfy all of them.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.


Localized rainfall is less important to the overall water equation than a good winter snowpack #COdrought

October 5, 2013

US Drought Monitor October 1, 2013

US Drought Monitor October 1, 2013


From The Crested Butte News (Seth Manning):

Even during rainfall events over the summer that would double the amount of water in the valley’s rivers and streams overnight, often the amount of water in the reservoirs remained largely unchanged. According to Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District general manager Frank Kugel, that’s what happens after two years of below-average precipitation.

Kugel told the Gunnison County Planning Commission at a meeting on Friday, September 6 that there were several peaks in the amount of water in Blue Mesa Reservoir over the summer, with some dramatic drops in between. He also said the localized rainfall is less important to the overall water equation than a good winter snowpack.

“The entire Gunnison River basin got less than a quarter of its normal inflow but the good news is that much of that inflow, percentage-wise, came from the East River and Taylor. Those are the two biggest contributors as far as basin inflows, percentage-wise,” Kugel said. “As grim as it looked we were actually doing better than some of our other neighbors in other basins. In the end there was a significant volume above what we had last year. That’s the good news.”

The bad news is that after two consecutive years of below-average precipitation in the winter months, Blue Mesa isn’t going to recover anytime soon and, Kugel said, will probably drop lower than it was at the end of last year.

“We’re anticipating by late October it will hit a low point. Likely not as low as 2002, but close,” Kugel told the Planning Commissioners. “So it’s going to be a long look out from the Lake City Bridge to where the lake actually starts.”

Even the heavy rains and snow that have swept across the Western Slope throughout September have yielded only modest gains in stored water, with Blue Mesa holding steady at 350,000 acre-feet.

And while the Gunnison River, the East River and Ohio Creek have all shown tremendous, temporary spikes in streamflow this summer, even doubling in size over night, Kugel said the years of drought have drawn down aquifers to a point where they can easily absorb any amount of water dropped during a rainstorm…

But through some litigation and inter-basin agreement, the UGRWCD has made great strides in securing the water already in use in the Gunnison Basin. Now it’s focused on providing the state with a clear plan for the basin’s water as part of the governor-initiated State Water Plan.

“Our number-one priority at this point is to protect existing uses within the basin, be it by overdevelopment from here or particularly to any export to other basin,” UGRWCD board member George Sibley told the commissioners. “We want to make sure we’re operating and managing our existing resources as effectively as we can and are prepared for other circumstances that may have dramatic impact on how much water is available.”

To accomplish that, the UGRWCD hired Lakewood-based Wilson Water Group—with a $200,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board—as a contractor to help develop a water-use plan for the entire Gunnison Basin that will be submitted to the state for consideration as part of a statewide water plan to be drafted over the course of 2014.

At the same time, the UGRWCD is trying to keep information about the valley’s water supply flowing, through manual snowpack observations that are under threat of being defunded by the National Resources Conservation Service.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Ridgway is embarking on a rehabilitation project for Lake Otonowanda

September 26, 2013
Lake Otonowanda -- photo / Applegate Group

Lake Otonowanda — photo / Applegate Group

From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

The $2.4 million Lake Otonowanda Rehabilitation Project will allow the town to exercise its full decreed storage right by improving the lake’s capacity from 100 to 600 acre feet, while restoring the tunnel outlet near the reservoir to make the delivery system more efficient.

The town’s municipal water right on Lake O predates the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 deal made by seven U.S. states in the basin of the Colorado River in the American Southwest, which to this day governs the allocation of the water rights to the river’s water.

Currently, due to Lake O’s modest size and declining condition, the Ridgway stores only a fraction of the water to which it is legally entitled; the renovation will allow the town to maximize Lake O’s historic adjudicated capacity. Stored water will supply the town when its flow rights are out of priority, ensuring enough water for most anticipated situations, even during drought years, and accommodating growth well into the future.

When the renovation is complete, the town will be able to supply water to the community for a minimum four-month period in a drought event, compared to its current storage capacity of only 10‐14 days’ worth of water.

The rehabilitation project got the big green light earlier this month, when the Town of Ridgway finalized a $1.2 million grant/loan package with the Colorado Water Conservation Board that will contribute significantly toward financing the project…

Arguably among the most scenic municipal reservoirs in the nation, Lake O is located about three miles south of Ridgway off of County Road 5, in an alpine meadow encircled by ponderosa forests and pristine views of the Cimarrons and Sneffels mountain ranges. It is the town’s primary municipal water source; the town also holds junior flow rights on Beaver Creek and Cottonwood Creek/Happy Hollow that are more vulnerable to calls. Generally, the lake provides enough water for the town’s needs (with an average of 280 acre feet diverted each year), but in the drought of 2002, all of Ridgway’s water rights were called by downstream senior water rights holders. The state water engineer subsequently put the town on notice to shore up water rights and storage strategies to prevent this situation from happening again.

More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.


New federal hydroelectric permitting laws would have helped Ouray with their project

September 7, 2013

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Here’s a report from Allen Best writing for The Mountain Town News. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

[Ouray] Mayor Bob Risch wishes that the two new federal laws signed by President Barack Obama in August had been adopted before he set out to get his project approved.

Those two new laws simplify the federal government’s process for small hydroelectric projects involving pre-existing infrastructure. Promoters say the laws will make it easier to harness the power of flowing water in existing irrigation canals, small dams, and even municipal water lines. Neither of the new laws will result in new dams or diversions. They apply only to existing infrastructure and to installations of 5 megawatts or less.

The previous process was cumbersome. “It was unbelievable,” says Risch, of requirements for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit. “They sent you a list of all the steps you have to go through. For example, it included a list of 55 organizations to which we had to send letters, informing them that we were going to start this process and invite comment from them.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.


Reclamation Selects Five Entities to Receive $485,423 to Establish or Expand Existing Watershed Groups

August 25, 2013

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Click here to read the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor announced today that five entities in Colorado, Idaho and Oregon will receive a total of $485,423 to establish or expand watershed groups. The selected entities will use the funding to address water quality, ecosystem and endangered species issues.
“Collaboration is the key if we are going to meet the many water challenges we face across West,” said Commissioner Connor. “Reclamation’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program focuses on bringing diverse groups together within basins. These strong partnerships will ultimately help reduce and resolve future conflict.”

The funding is made available through the Cooperative Watershed Management Program, part of the U.S. Department of Interior’s WaterSMART Initiative. This grant program supports the formation and development of locally led watershed groups and facilitates the development of multi-stakeholder watershed projects. The five entities selected for funding are:

  • Land Trust of the Treasure Valley in Idaho ($100,000) – The Land Trust of the Treasure Valley will establish the Boise River Enhancement Network in collaboration with Trout Unlimited, Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, Idaho Rivers United and the South Boise Water Company. The Network will address water quality issues, endangered species and loss of natural habitats in the lower Boise River watershed and will work with stakeholders to increase opportunities for public and private enhancement project collaboration.
  • Western Slope Conservation Center in Colorado ($100,000) – The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia is an established watershed group that will use funding to address issues in two adjacent drainages above and below the North Fork of the Gunnison River to improve stream stability, riparian habitat and ecosystem function in the watershed. The watershed has been experiencing water quality issues with E.coli exceeding state water standards, selenium in the North Fork of the Gunnison River and excessive amounts of salt flowing from the river into the Colorado River.
  • Friends of the Teton River, Inc. in Idaho ($89,379) – Friends of the Teton River located in Teton County will expand a current watershed group to form the Teton Advisory Council to develop a restoration plan that identifies, prioritizes and endorses a specific series of watershed restoration and water conservation activities to improve water quality and ecological resiliency of the Teton River watershed.
  • San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Colorado ($96,415) – The San Juan Resource Conservation and Development in Durango will expand the membership of the Animas Watershed Partnership. The partners will address concerns with the temperature, sedimentation and E. coli levels in the Animas River as well as issues related to the endangered Southwest Willow Flycatcher.
  • Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District in Oregon ($99,629) – The Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District will use the funding to expand the Hood River Watershed group. The watershed group will address water supply and instream flows for threatened native fish such as the winter steelhead, Chinook salmon and coho salmon and other concerns in the watershed. The watershed group will address these issues by conducting analyses to identify and prioritize actions that partners can undertake to develop long term solutions within the basin.
  • A complete description of all projects is available at: http://www.usbr.gov/WaterSMART/cwmp/.

    Each entity will receive half of its funding this year and if sufficient progress is made as identified in its application, it will receive the remainder of its funding next year. No cost-share was required.

    Reclamation awarded $333,500 to eight entities in 2012 in the first year of grant funding for the Cooperative Management Program of the WaterSMART initiative. Since its establishment in 2010, WaterSMART has provided more than $161 million in competitively-awarded funding to non-federal partners, including tribes, water districts, municipalities, and universities through WaterSMART Grants and the Title XVI Program. Funding for WaterSMART is focused on improving water conservation and helping water and resource managers make wise decisions about water use.

    More Bureau of Reclamation coverage here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: 550 cfs in Black Canyon

    August 3, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Due to the continuance of precipitation throughout the Gunnison River basin, flows in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, have remained above the Aspinall Unit ROD baseflow target of 890 cfs. Scattered rainfall is forecast to occur over the basin during the next week, which will hopefully keep streamflows at or above their current levels.

    Therefore, in order to conserve some storage in the Aspinall Unit, releases from Crystal Dam shall be decreased by 50 cfs (from 1,600 cfs to 1,550 cfs) at 8:00 am, Saturday, August 3rd. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 550 cfs.


    Western Water Workshop — Planning for the new normal — recap

    July 25, 2013

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    From The Gunnison Times (Will Shoemaker):

    Colorado’s Instream Flow Program — the first of its kind in the West — was established by a law passed by the Colorado legislature in 1973, though it took six years to subsequently survive legal challenges. A pair of water leaders in Colorado described the program’s history and evolution during a talk last Thursday as part of the 38th annual Colorado Water Workshop at Western State Colorado University.

    It was an appropriate topic at this year’s workshop — the theme of which was “Planning for the New Normal” — given that 40 years ago, the implementation of the Instream Flow Program introduced a “new normal” by challenging the assumption that water must be diverted for a right to be granted. “The program provides the legal foundations for a new understanding of the value of water that goes beyond direct human uses,” said Jeff Sellen, director of the Water Workshop. The law set up a regulatory framework for establishing water rights that depict minimum flows in a stream or levels in natural lakes. Under the program, only the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) can hold those rights.

    But one local woman traces the program’s roots back to a meeting among three visionaries at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) in Gothic in the mid-1960s. “Instream flow has it’s origin with the question ‘Why?’ over a glass of wine,” said Gunnison’s Scottie Willey, a longtime RMBL researcher…

    While the intent of the 1973 law specifically aims to protect the environment to a reasonable degree, secondary benefits have resulted “for fisheries and for recreation,” said Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) General Manager Frank Kugel. “There’s extensive flow protection in our basin,” he added.

    Linda Bassi, chief of CWCB’s Stream and Lake Protection Section, said during last week’s Water Workshop talk that to date more than 9,000 miles of streams have been protected by instream flow rights across the state — in addition to levels in 480 natural lakes…

    Following the passage of the instream flow law, prominent Colorado water attorney David Robbins worked to ensure that the program remained. He was part of a team that filed for instream flow rights on three waterways in the Crystal River Basin — “test cases” for the new law. Each were “headwaters” streams of the type that even today comprise the bulk of protected segments under the program. Robbins explained during last week’s Water Workshop that most of the water community in 1973 still believed the new law to be unconstitutional. “It didn’t produce a recognized beneficial use under past case law and statutes,” he explained. “And it would preclude a portion of water from streams from citizens being able to remove that water in the future and apply it to another beneficial use.”

    That is, Colorado’s “first in time, first in right” appropriation system did not prior to then provide a widely recognized means of protecting the natural environment by establishing water rights. Not until 1979 was the Instream Flow Program upheld in state Supreme Court.

    Robbins said that the 1973 law was largely in response to efforts already underway at the time to recognize non-consumptive water rights — including in Gothic. “It’s purpose was in part to blunt the fledgling effort to amend the constitution to recognize instream flows as a recognized use within Colorado,” said Robbins. “We need to be very clear that prior to 1973, it was the generally held view in Colorado that in order to obtain a decreed water right, you had to divert the water from a river.”

    More education coverage here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: 1600 cfs in Black Canyon

    July 17, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    Rainfall over the last week has helped keep river flows in the Gunnison River at the Whitewater gage well above the baseflow target of 900 cfs. Currently flows are over 1,200 cfs and the weather forecast is showing a good chance for a continuation of rain storms into the weekend.

    Therefore releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced by 100 cfs (from 1,700 cfs to 1,600 cfs) today, Tuesday July 16, at 5:00 pm. This will bring flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon down to around 600 cfs.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


    Ouray: The city is trying to bolster its water rights to protect against a downstream call

    June 27, 2013

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    From The Watch (Samantha Wright):

    Thus the City of Ouray has been forever saddled with junior water rights compared to thirsty downstream irrigators, who are more and more likely to place a call on the city’s water supply as that water becomes ever scarcer in future years. This is the basic problem which the city seeks to resolve.

    CDWR conducts tabulations of water rights throughout its various districts every two years. Water rights holders have one year from the time of the tabulation to object to a particular determination. The last tabulation of water rights affecting the City of Ouray took place in 2012, and the next one occurs in 2014.

    The City of Ouray, through [City Attorney Kathryn Sellars], intends to file an official objection to the CDWR’s 2012 tabulation which enabled the M&D Canal to make a call on the city’s water supply last year.

    In a position paper sent to to Division 4 Water Engineer Bob Hurford on June 13 outlining this objection, Sellars related the complicated history of water adjudication in Colorado and exposed special circumstances which, she argued, underline several flaws in the system when applied to Ouray.

    Central to her argument is the so-called “subordination clause” in the first general adjudication decree in Division 4 in 1888 which “subordinates” agricultural water uses to so-called domestic water use but has been interpreted narrowly so as not to equate “domestic” with modern-day municipal water use…

    “We don’t have the authority to tabulate a water right in the way the City of Ouray is asking,” [Jason Ullman, Assistant Division Engineer for CDWR’s Division 4] argued. “We have told them we would not oppose them if they filed with the water court to request that the seniority of water rights be clarified, and see what the water court judge says. They really need to take the matter to someone who has the authority to direct us to retabulate.”

    CDWR’s research has not produced any other examples of other Colorado municipalities in the same situation as Ouray.

    “It’s just the way the priority system was developed in Colorado,” Ullman said. “They couldn’t foresee this problem back then. It’s worked well for over 100 years, but there are some quirks in the system. The point is, we would not file an opposition to their request for retabulation, but the court needs to give its blessing to that. Because there is no other municipality in this situation.”

    More Uncompahgre River Watershed coverage here and here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: 700 cfs in the Black Canyon

    June 25, 2013

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    Even with the recent increase in releases from the Aspinall Unit, the forecast for flows on the lower Gunnison River continues to decline. Without additional water, flows at the Whitewater gage are again expected to approach the 900 cfs baseflow target by this weekend.

    In order to meet the environmental commitments set forth in the Aspinall ROD, releases from Crystal Dam shall be increased again, starting at 8:00 am on Wednesday, June 26, by 100 cfs (from 1,600 cfs to 1,700 cfs). This will increase flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon to around 700 cfs. At this level, flows in the canyon will be above the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow target of 685 cfs. Flows through the canyon are expected to remain at this level for the foreseeable future.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


    Aspinall Unit operations update: Releases from Crystal Dam bumping up 100 cfs to

    June 22, 2013

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    Click on the thumbnail graphic for project background.

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The forecast for flows on the lower Gunnison River continues to decline as the last remaining snow melts away. Even with the additional water released from the Aspinall Unit yesterday, it appears that flows on the Gunnison River as measured at the Whitewater gage will again recede towards the 900 cfs baseflow target by next week.

    In order to meet the environmental commitments set forth in the Aspinall ROD, releases from Crystal Dam shall be increased again, starting at 8:00 am on Sunday, June 23, by 100 cfs (from 1,500 cfs to 1,600 cfs). This will increase flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon to around 600 cfs

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.


    Aspinall Unit update: 500 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge

    June 19, 2013

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    From email from Reclamation (Dan Crabtree):

    Flows at the Whitewater Gage on the Gunnison River near Grand Junction have declined to a point where additional releases from the Aspinall Unit are necessary to maintain environmental commitments. Tomorrow morning (Thursday the 20th) releases from Crystal Dam will increase by 200 cfs bringing flows to 500 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge. An additional increase will likely take place next Wednesday the 26th, but we’ll send out a notice prior to that time with more details.

    More Aspinall Unit coverage here and here.


    Move water from west to east or dry up agriculture?

    June 8, 2013

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    Hannah Holm recaps the Gunnison Roundtable discussion of the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline in this column running in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

    One reliable way to rile up a room full of western Coloradans is to start talking about moving water from the Colorado River basin (“our water”) east across the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities. You’ll hear lots of muttering, and someone will probably say something to the effect that not one more drop should go over while a blade of bluegrass remains in the Denver metro area.

    It doesn’t even have to be water that resides in Colorado to get people’s backs up, as was demonstrated by the reaction to a proposal floated by entrepreneur Aaron Million to pump water from the Flaming Gorge reservoir in southwestern Wyoming east along the I-80 corridor and then south to a reservoir near Pueblo. In September 2011, billboards sprouted up along I-70 protesting providing funding to even study the idea. The billboards were funded by environmental organizations, but a host of resolutions approved by the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County and others roundly condemned the proposed project as well.

    However, if Front Range cities can’t take water from our side of the hill, they have to look elsewhere — and that usually means “buying and drying” agricultural land. Since western Coloradans tend to like farms, even if they are east of the Divide, this creates a bit of a quandary. While some claim that ramped up conservation could preclude the need for more water transfers, it’s not easy to see how to push conservation far enough to close the 500,000-acre-foot gap between supply and demand that is forecast to afflict the state by 2050 if measures aren’t taken. Besides, if the Front Range has to dry up lawns, we might have to do the same — and that becomes a more complicated conversation.

    Despite the billboards and resolutions, the state did fund a committee to study the potential benefits and impacts of the Flaming Gorge proposal. It included representatives from each of Colorado’s major river basins, including many highly skeptical of the proposal as well as potential beneficiaries, and it met once a month for a year. In short order, the committee broadened its mission and ended up developing a series of questions to be addressed for any proposed major movement of water across the Divide, as well as criteria for what would be a “good” project. This report was presented to the Gunnison Basin Roundtable and Gunnison “State of the River” meeting in Montrose June 3.

    More Flaming Gorge Pipeline coverage here and here.


    Gunnison River Basin: The June Watershed News from the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition is hot off the press

    June 4, 2013

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    Click here to read the news.

    More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.


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