We’re damming up biggest rivers on Earth. Why that is a bad idea. — American Rivers

October 30, 2014


Aspinall Unit update: Uncompahgre Water Users scheduled to turn off Friday

October 28, 2014
Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

From email from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Erik Knight):

“Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 950 cfs to 450 cfs on Friday, October 31st between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will be shutting down diversions at the Gunnison Tunnel on Friday. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 550 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be zero and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will be around 450 cfs.


Aspinall Unit operation update: 350 cfs in Black Canyon

October 27, 2014
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be decreased from 1050 cfs to 950 cfs on Monday, October 27th at 10:00 AM. The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association will be decreasing diversions at the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the October baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for September through December.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 600 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon will still be around 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.


Republican River Basin: “You want more than damages” — Antonin Scalia

October 15, 2014
Republican River Basin by District

Republican River Basin by District

From Omaha World-Herald (Joseph Morton):

The court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the latest twist of the 1943 Republican River Compact signed by Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. The case pits Nebraska against Kansas — not only over the amount of money Nebraska owes, but also to set the ground rules for what are sure to be future battles over the use of a critical but stressed resource.

Justices had sharp questions for both sides. They expressed skepticism about Kansas’ claim for higher damages as well as Nebraska’s desire to rewrite the formula used to calculate water usage.

As is typical in such interstate disputes, a special master earlier had reviewed the case for the court. He found that Nebraska owes $5.5 million — $3.7 million in basic damages with an additional $1.8 million attributed to the gains made by Nebraska farmers as a result of the violations. Nebraska is challenging the extra $1.8 million penalty.

Kansas Solicitor General Stephen McAllister, however, urged the justices to go significantly higher in penalizing Nebraska, contending that Nebraska’s actual gains were much larger than $3.7 million, or even $5.5 million. If Nebraska winds up with more in benefits than it is penalized for the excess water, he said, it will have no incentive to work hard at compliance in a future drought.
Justice Antonin Scalia focused on the extra penalty that Kansas is seeking.

“You want more than damages,” Scalia told McAllister. “You want to say, ‘I not only want to receive what it cost me, what your violation cost me, but I want in addition to receive any benefits that you got from the violation.’ … That’s not a normal contract remedy.”

Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that Nebraska’s violations of the compact had been ruled unintentional. But McAllister said Nebraska knew it was exposing Kansas to risk and described it as “more than negligent” on Nebraska’s part.

“These were massive violations on Nebraska’s part, knowing they were in trouble and just really not taking any kind of adequate steps,” McAllister said.

Nebraska Chief Deputy Attorney General David Cookson defended Nebraska’s efforts to stay in compliance
with the compact and to mitigate the situation once the problems were revealed. Still, he faced questions from Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom cited the special master’s findings that while Nebraska’s violations were not an intentional breach, the state should have seen what was coming.

“The special master also said essentially … that you were a conscious wrongdoer, that you failed to act, refused to act in the face of a known risk,” Kagan said to Cookson. She said the special master found that “unless there was some very lucky fortuitous thing that happened, the quite foreseeable effect of your actions was going to be that Kansas didn’t have enough water.”

Cookson said Nebraska does not agree with the findings about what Nebraska should have known or the idea that it took no action.

“Nebraska seized control of its consumptive use in 2002 while it was still negotiating the compact, and through 2006 reduced its pumping (by 35 percent),” Cookson said. “At the same time, however, Nebraska could not reasonably foresee that its allocations were going to fall even below the historical low period of record in this basin, which was the Dust Bowl.”

Nebraska also has asked the court to go along with the special master’s finding that the formula for calculating water usage should be reworked because it is unfair. Chief Justice John Roberts expressed skepticism about taking such a step, however.

“The idea of a special master or this court changing the nature of that agreement is a pretty radical one,” Roberts said.

The court is expected to rule before the end of the year.

After the arguments, Cookson told The World-Herald that it’s impossible to gather from the court’s questions which way the justices are leaning. They often play devil’s advocate and push harder on the side they ultimately agree with in order to sharpen the arguments in their favor.

“The court was very engaged,” Cookson said. “They asked questions that pushed the boundaries of both sides’ arguments.”

More Republican River Basin coverage here.


Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co, Aspen and the #ColoradoRiver District reach deal

October 15, 2014

From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen and Front Range water interests have reached a compromise 20 years in the making that allows more water to be sent east when the spring runoff is plentiful, in exchange for bolstering flows when the Roaring Fork River is running low in the fall. The deal is between the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which operates transbasin diversion tunnels underneath Independence Pass, and the city of Aspen and the Colorado River District, which works to protect water rights on the Western Slope.

The deal, which has its roots in a 1994 water court application from Twin Lakes that sought to increase diversions during the runoff in high-snowpack years. It will leave 40 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir when Twin Lakes exercises its rights under the 1994 proposal. That water will be stored in the 500-acre-foot reservoir and released into the Roaring Fork for about three weeks in late summer, when seasonal flows are at their lowest. The water must be called for and released in the same year it was stored.

Grizzly Reservoir, located about 8 miles up Lincoln Creek Road near the Continental Divide, is a component of the transbasin-diversion system. A tunnel underneath the reservoir channels water underneath the mountain to the south fork of Lake Creek in the Arkansas River basin, on the other side of the pass.

Additionally, under the deal, the River District will have the right to store 200 acre-feet of water in Grizzly Reservoir and can call for up to 150 acre feet of that water in a year. Importantly, that 200 acre-feet can be stored long-term in the reservoir until it is called for by the River District, which manages water rights across the Western Slope.

Another 600 acre-feet will be provided to the River District for seasonal storage in Twin Lakes Reservoir, also on the east side of Independence Pass. The district will then trade and exchange that water with various entities, which could lead to more water staying on the Western Slope that would otherwise be diverted through other transbasin tunnels.

Twin Lakes diverts an average of 46,000 acre-feet a year from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork and sends it to Colorado Springs and other Front Range cities. The city of Colorado Springs owns 55 percent of the shares in the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., entities in Pueblo own 23 percent, entities in Pueblo West own 12 percent, and Aurora owns 5 percent.

Aspen and the River District intend to cooperatively use the stored water in Grizzly Reservoir to boost late-summer flows in the Roaring Fork as it winds through Aspen proper.

Water already flowing
The stretch of the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch on Stillwater Drive typically runs below environmentally sound flows each year for about eight weeks, according to city officials. And given that this spring saw a high run-off, the three parties to the agreement managed some water this year as if the deal was already signed.

“At the close of the current water year (which ended the last day of September), Twin Lakes started making releases of some of the water stored for the River District, followed by release of the 40 acre-feet, as directed by Aspen and the River District,” Phil Overeynder, a special projects engineer for the city, wrote in an Oct. 3 memo to city council. “These releases had the effect of increasing flows in the Roaring Fork through the Aspen reach by approximately 20 percent and will last for approximately a three-week period at the end of the lowest flow conditions of the year.”

Overeynder added that “both Aspen and the River District believe that this agreement, while not perfect, is of real and meaningful benefit to the Roaring Fork.”

Aspen City Council approved the agreement on its consent calendar during a regular council meeting on Monday. The agreement is on the River District’s Tuesday meeting agenda, and Twin Lakes approved it last month.

The deal still needs to be accepted by Pitkin County and the Salvation Ditch Co. in order to satisfy all of the details of the water court’s 2001 approval of the 1994 water rights application.

Junior and senior rights
In addition to its junior 1994 water right, Twin Lakes also holds a senior 1936 water right that allows it to divert up to 68,000 acre-feet in a single year and up to 570,000 acre-feet in a 10-year period.

Originally, the water diverted by Twin Lakes was used to grow sugar beets to make sugar, but it is now primarily used to meet the needs of people living on the Front Range.

The 1936 water right still has some lingering restrictions in high-water years, according to Kevin Lusk, an engineer with Colorado Springs Utilities who serves as the president of the board of the private Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Under its 1936 right, when there is plenty of water in the Arkansas River and the Twin Lakes Reservoir is full, Twin Lakes is not allowed to divert water, even though it is physically there to divert, Lusk explained. So in 1994 it filed in water court for a new water right without the same restrictions so it could divert more water to the east. It was dubbed the “Twin Junior,” water right.

The city of Aspen and the River District objected in court to the “Twin Junior” and the agreement approved Monday is a long-delayed outcome of the case.

Aspen claimed that if Twin Lakes diverted more water in big-water years, the Roaring Fork wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the high water, including flooding the Stillwater section and replenishing groundwater supplies. That process, the city argued, helps the river in dry times.

“We don’t necessarily agree with the theory behind it,” Lusk said of the city’s claim, but added that Twin Lakes agreed to the deal as part of settlement negotiations.

And since 2014 turned out to be a high-water year, Twin Lakes exercised its right to divert water under its 1994 Twin Junior right, and worked cooperatively with Aspen and the River District to release 40-acre feet of “mitigation water” as described in the pending deal.

The new agreement between the city, Twin Lakes and the River District is in addition to another working arrangement between Twin Lakes and Aspen related to the Fryingpan-Arkansas diversion project, which diverts water from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

That agreement provides 3,000 acre-feet of water each year to be released by Twin Lakes into the main stem of the Roaring Fork beneath a dam near Lost Man Campground, normally at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic feet per second.

More Twin Lakes coverage here.


Colorado’s river economy worth $9 billion — High Country News #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

October 3, 2014


From the High Country News (Sarah Tory):

When Governor Hickenlooper issued his executive order last year to create a state Water Plan, he charged the Colorado Water Conservation Board with the task and they, in turn, looked to the Basin Roundtables for their ideas about what the overall plan should include. The goal said, James Eklund, the Board’s Director, was to tackle Colorado’s water problems “as one unit.”

That’s the theory at least. But with the Roundtables dominated by municipal and agricultural interests, other groups are struggling to make their voices heard.

On September 10, a group of Colorado business leaders made their case for the “river-based economy” at the Colorado Water Conservation Board meeting in Glenwood Springs, where members of the public could comment on draft sections of the plan.

The setting was fitting: nearby, the rugged Glenwood Canyon runs alongside the busy I-70 corridor. A good portion of the town’s economy revolves around people coming to fish and raft on the Colorado River which carves through the canyon walls, but that river, like so many on the West Slope – where the majority of Colorado’s water lies – is shrinking. Every year, 180 billion gallons of water are sucked from rivers flowing west of the Continental Divide through a vast system of tunnels and pipes to thirsty farms and cities along the dry Front Range.

Now, faced with a growing gap between water supply and demand, they need more. In their draft plans, released in July, East Slope Basins like the South Platte emphasize the need “to consider new Colorado River supply options to meet future water demands” – which means keeping open the possibility of pulling more water from west to east through new transmountain diversions. But those plans, say members of Colorado’s outdoor recreation, real estate, and tourism industries, jeopardize a $9 billion dollar economy that hinges on healthy rivers – and supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state.

Graphic via the High Country News

Graphic via the High Country News

A report commissioned by Protect The Flows found that if the Colorado River was a company, it would rank 155th on the 2011 Fortune 500 list (those numbers are based just off of the revenue and jobs provided by the outdoor recreation industry), ahead of General Mills and US airways. It would also be the 19th biggest employer on the list.

“It’s really pure economics for us,” says Dennis Saffell, a realtor from Grand County. Factoring in all the indirect beneficiaries of Colorado’s rivers means the true economic value is likely much greater, he added, citing a recent report that found declining river flows across the Southwest could significantly hurt home prices…

Protect Our Flows wants the statewide plan to place more emphasis on smart water management and remove the option of building new transmountain diversions. The group is pressing the Colorado Water Conservation Board to set concrete statewide conservation goals in the Water Plan, especially for towns and cities – something most other Western states have, but Colorado is lacking.

Both Mackey and Saffell noted that although most of the Basin Roundtables recognize the economic value of healthy rivers, far fewer have actually quantified those benefits – or included specific language to protect stream flows. Since each Basin’s recommendations lay the foundation for the statewide plan, it’s essential that all of them include concrete standards.

But the river advocates are up against some strong, well-entrenched political forces. They pointed to the big agriculture and municipal interests that drive a large chunk of Colorado’s economy – and hold much of the power at the Basin Roundtables.

In comparison, the recreation economy is “the new kid on the block,”, says Mackey, who grew up skiing on wood skis and cable bindings. “I’m a sixty year old man and Patagonia, The North Face, the Vail Ski Resort – these companies grew up in my lifetime,” he added. “So we really need to push our way into the conversation.”

And there’s another challenge: Colorado’s water laws. Most were written in the late 1800’s and though a few modifications have occurred over the years, the laws still reinforce a “use it or lose it” mentality, which makes it difficult to implement conservation strategies. Thanks to those laws, says Saffell, farmers and cities have a legal right to keep using more water.

Think of it this way, he added: if we had the same traffic laws as we did 150 years ago when the water laws were written, it would be utter chaos. Most laws change to accommodate new realities, says Saffell, “but for some reason our water laws are untouchable.”

Instead, “we need to get away from this concept that any water left in the river is wasted water because it’s not being put to beneficial use,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


How will CSU’s $50 million for Fountain Creek mitigation be spent?

October 2, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

While the decision of how to spend $50 million for flood control on Fountain Creek to benefit Pueblo will be made by the parties directly involved, other input will be needed.

“Anyone who wants to come to the table and says, ‘We want to find out where money for these projects will be available,’ is welcome,” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said.

Last week, Hart made a pitch to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District to begin planning now for the arrival of $50 million in payments from Colorado Springs Utilities after Southern Delivery System goes online in 2016. That money is seen as seed money for projects that could amount to $150 million or more identified in a corridor master plan. The money was negotiated by Pueblo County under its 1041 agreement with Utilities in 2009 for the construction of the SDS water supply pipeline through the county. It is to be used for flood control projects on Fountain Creek that benefit Pueblo County. When the district was established later in 2009, it became the recipient of the money.

“At a minimum, Pueblo County, CSU and the Fountain Creek district need to be involved, and they will have the final say,” Hart said.

But the city of Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District also should have input about how the money will be used, Hart said.

The greatest potential damage from Fountain Creek flooding is within the city of Pueblo and in the communities of the Lower Ark Valley downstream from Fountain Creek.

“The Lower Ark District was instrumental in developing the corridor plan, and we definitely need the technical input from the city of Pueblo,” Hart said.

The corridor plan, a joint effort of Utilities and the Lower Ark district, identifies projects between Fountain and Pueblo that could cost several times the $50 million that was earmarked under the 1041 agreement. Pueblo already has participated in pilot projects to demonstrate flood control techniques.

In addition to technical assistance, Pueblo County’s attorneys will have to be involved to determine whether projects meet the conditions of the 1041 permit. This will be important to avoid the kinds of dispute that developed when the Lower Ark raised objections about how its contributions to the district were being spent.

“I see this new committee working in concert with the steering committee (Utilities, Lower Ark and the Fountain Creek District),” Hart said.

More Fountain Creek coverage here.


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