Aspinall Unit operations update: Summer rains bolstering flows in Black Canyon

September 4, 2014

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be reduced from 1600 cfs to 1450 cfs on Wednesday, September 3rd at 1:00 PM. Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows have remained relatively high due to the August rains and flows are expected to stay above the September baseflow target at the new rate of release.

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.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 600 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will still be around 1050 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 450 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.


Uncompahgre River: Float Highlights River Improvements, Future Visions — The Watch

August 28, 2014

From The Watch (William Woody):

Last Sunday [August 17, 2014], under beautiful sunny skies, members of the Friends of the River Uncompahgre (FORU) hosted a tour of the river from boats launched at an access point behind Chipeta Lake to a take-out near Taviwach Park on the city’s north side.

The tour was developed to give local officials and residents a first-hand experience of the river since improvements were made along its banks earlier this year; the improvements will continue in 2015 as part of the city’s continuing Uncompahgre River Master Plan, completed in 2011.

Along with local boaters, officials from the city, county, Bureau of Land Management, Parks and Wildlife and the Montrose Recreation District clambered into rafts and kayaks for the three-hour float.

Along the way, wooden markers on the river’s banks highlighted both public and private property boundaries bordering the water. Officials and residents are continuing to brainstorm ideas for possible public-property development. With a trained eye, one could see the next phases of the river master plan, which includes the addition of a whitewater park set for construction next year.

The whitewater park will be located between the pedestrian bridge in Baldridge Park and the West Main Street Bridge.

Due to the rising popularity of river sports, the trend in adding whitewater parks has continued in recent years in sites across the country as a way to draw more visitors.

“We wanted to get some ideas on how we make the river safe for families,” said Montrose City Manager Bill Bell. “We’re really trying to give locals who like the fishing or the outdoor recreation a chance to come and do that in a family friendly environment. But we also want to attract visitors and tourists.”[...]

Durango added its “watermark” years ago, incorporating its downtown with the Animas River through boardwalks and a variety of businesses. Unlike Durango, the Uncompahgre River is fed with water from the Ridgway Reservoir and the Gunnison Tunnel. This means water levels can be more sustainable throughout the year, whereas the Animas runs very low later in the summer.

The sustainable water flow offers the potential for Montrose to become a destination for whitewater companies and guides, allowing them to teach and float later in the season.

Another reason for the whitewater park is to give boaters a safer place to have fun in the rapids. With local knowledge, boaters can learn to ride the famed “M-Wave,” a large, continuous whitewater wave located on the south canal, east of Montrose. Using the park – at least at first – and avoiding the M-Wave will reduce the risk of injury, lawsuits and fatalities, according to officials…

In February, heavy equipment and surveyors with Evergreen-based Ecological Resources Consultants, Inc., spent weeks digging out a 1,500-foot stretch of the river to improve fishing habitat. The work took place directly south of the fishing bridge in Baldridge Park behind the park’s softball fields.

Re-shaping the river’s channel will not only improve the fishing habitat but also riparian wildlife areas along with entire river corridor, according to Renzo DelPiccolo of Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose…

Through grants, lottery funds and city contributions, the cost of renovating the river corridor has amounted to about $900,000 so far, according to Bell.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here.


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

August 19, 2014


From the Vail Daily (Lauren Glendenning):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Lauren Glendenning):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Water Lines: Dire water predicament spurs cooperation, compromise — Grand Junction Free Press #ColoradoRiver

August 12, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

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

After a winter of happy news about the generous snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, summer brought reminders that our regional water situation is dire – or, at least, poised on the edge of direness.

Just as the ink was drying on mid-July headlines announcing that Lake Mead had dropped to its lowest level since filling 80 years ago, a new study found that groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin has been even more dramatic. The study used satellite data to track changes in the amount of water in the basin from 2004 to 2013, and found that 75 percent of the nearly 53 million acre feet lost during that period was from groundwater depletions.

While it is easy to measure how much water is in reservoirs, it is much less clear how much groundwater remains in the region’s aquifers. Western Colorado doesn’t rely much on groundwater, but other states in the basin do.

Then, in early August, researchers at CU-Boulder released an updated report on Climate Change in Colorado. The report notes that higher temperatures are likely to put further pressure on the state’s water supplies, even if we get a bit more rain and snow, because plants will need more and more will evaporate.

An historic 14-year drought plus increasing demands are pushing the Colorado River system ever closer to the point where it could no longer be able to provide the services people rely on. And groundwater appears to be disappearing too fast to be much of a safety net.

The City of Las Vegas, Central Arizona farmers and power generation at Glen Canyon Dam are among the first in line to take a hit if water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead continue to drop.

However, disaster is not inevitable. The multi-state, bi-national agreement to send water back to the Colorado River Delta last spring, for the first time in 30 years, demonstrates that those who manage the river are capable of improbable feats.

Many of the same minds that negotiated the deal that provided water for the delta are working intensely to find ways to keep Mead and Powell functioning and to keep the region’s cities, farms and environment intact. There seems to be both a growing sense of urgency and an increasingly cooperative spirit to these efforts.

Not long ago, when I heard Colorado officials and water managers discuss the overuse of water in the Colorado River Basin, they made it clear that this was mostly a problem for California, Arizona and Nevada — and that Colorado was still intent on developing its full legal share. That tune hasn’t exactly changed, but more cooperative efforts have moved into the foreground.

Most recently, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority announced that they will team up with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to provide $11 million for pilot conservation projects to boost levels in Powell and Mead.

Cooperation is crossing constituencies as well as Upper – Lower basin divisions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel recently reported that Denver Water, the Colorado River District, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Southwestern Water Conservation District, the Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited are working together to explore ways to use some of that $11 million to test “temporary, voluntary and fully compensated” conservation strategies.

Even within Colorado, some of the conflict between West Slopers and Front Rangers over additional transmountain diversions could be softening. A recent “conceptual agreement” released by Colorado’s Inter-basin Compact Committee, which includes representatives from all the state’s river basins, outlines how additional Colorado River water could be sent East “under the right circumstances.” Central to the draft agreement is the recognition by East Slope entities that a new transmountain diversion may not be able to deliver water every year and must be used along with non-West Slope sources of water.

These shifts in tone seem to indicate a coming-to-terms with the fact that Colorado River Basin water supplies are limited, and that everyone who relies on them has a stake in finding ways for all to live within those limits. What remains to be seen is whether we can adapt quickly enough to keep ahead of crisis. Don’t stop praying for snow just yet.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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

August 4, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Blue River watershed coverage here.


“Want an expert overview on the #COWaterPlan?” — @ConservationCO/@wradv #ColoradoRiver

August 2, 2014

US Department of the Interior and Western municipal water suppliers reach landmark collaborative agreement #ColoradoRiver

August 1, 2014


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

In support of the Colorado River basin states drought contingency planning to address a long-term imbalance on the Colorado River caused by years of drought conditions, municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado and the federal government signed a landmark water conservation agreement this week called the Colorado River System Conservation program.

Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Southern Nevada Water Authority are partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to contribute $11 million to fund pilot Colorado River water conservation projects. The projects will demonstrate the viability of cooperative, voluntary compensated measures for reducing water demand in a variety of areas, including agricultural, municipal and industrial uses.

For more than a decade, a severe drought — one of the worst in the last 1,200 years — has gripped the Colorado River, causing the world’s most extensive storage reservoir system to come closer and closer to critically low water levels. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, and the combined metropolitan areas served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, generating more than $1.7 trillion in Gross Metropolitan Product per year along with agricultural economic benefits of just under $5 billion annually.

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

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

Without collaborative action now, water supplies, hydropower production, water quality, agricultural output and recreation and environmental resources are all at risk, in both the upper and lower basins.

“This agreement represents a unique approach to save water and protect the Colorado River system from the impacts of the on-going drought and the current imbalance between supplies and demands in the Basin,” said Central Arizona Project Board President Pam Pickard. “It is an important milestone in interstate collaboration, with CAP working with partners in California, Nevada, Colorado and the federal government to improve the health of the Colorado River.”

All water conserved under this program will stay in the river, helping to boost the declining reservoir levels and benefiting the health of the entire river system.

“Half of Denver’s water supply comes from the Colorado River, so we have a direct interest in the health of the entire system,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO. “This is a proactive contingency plan for drought years to help secure our water supply future with a balanced, economic and environmental approach. This is clearly the right thing to do for our customers, our future water supply and the basin.”

The Colorado River System Conservation program will provide funding for pilot conservation programs in 2015 and 2016. Successful programs can be expanded or extended to provide even greater protection for the Colorado River system.

“The time has come for our states to work together to develop contingency strategies to manage the Colorado River under extreme drought conditions that threaten the levels of Lakes Mead and Powell,” said John Entsminger, general manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. “As Lake Mead continues to drop toward critical levels, we must simultaneously begin to take collective action now and plan additional future measures.”

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

From InkStain (John Fleck):

The program has been simmering for months (see here, here and here for previous public discussions), but this evening’s announcement marks the final signing of the deal by federal officials. The program is a partnership of the basin’s four largest municipal water agencies – the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water and the Southern Nevada Water Authority – and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation…

This is a small but very significant step forward. Previous conservation efforts were funded by an individual water agency, with water conserved banked in reservoir storage for later use by that agency. In this program, the water conserved will simply become “system water” for the benefit of all.

Significantly, the announcement says pilot programs will be conducted in 2015 and 2016. (I had been hearing water managers talk about the possibility of getting something underway this year, but it looks like July 31 is too late for that.)

Also, there’s some nuance here about who will built the institutional widgets to carry this out. In the Lower Basin, it will be the Bureau. In the Upper Basin, it will be some sort of state-managed effort that I don’t fully understand. There’s apparently been a lot of sensitivity on the question of who’s driving this bus in the Upper Basin.

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

US Drought Monitor July 29, 2014

From the Associated Press via ABC News:

The Interior Department said Thursday that local water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado will take part in the deal.

It aims to create several small pilot programs in 2015 and 2016 that would provide incentives and compensation for conservation by cities, farmers and industry, according to a statement announcing the agreement. The programs that work best can then be expanded, extended, or both.

The move was called very necessary, though only a beginning with the severe shortfall threatening to challenge the region’s long-term water supply…

The project’s partners include the Central Arizona Project, Denver Water, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern Nevada Water Authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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