#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead back above 1,075 — John Fleck #COriver


From InkStain (John Fleck):

Apparently in celebration of this week’s official release date for my book Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West, Lake Mead overnight crept above the magic elevation level of 1,075 feet above sea level. That’s number attached in policy and, more importantly, the public mind to the notion of shortage on the Colorado River. At this point the elevation milestone is merely symbolic. The shortage policy, with mandatory cutbacks, only kicks in if the reservoir is below 1,075 on Jan. 1 of any given year. Mead typically rises between August and the end of the year, so there will be no shortage declaration at the end of the year.

Don’t get too excited about rising above 1,075. We’re still on track to set another one of those “lowest elevation since Lake Mead was filled” records yet again this month. The end-of-August record low is 1,078.31 which we set last year. And as Brett Walton noted this morning in Circle of Blue’s Federal Water Tap, there’s a greater than 50 percent chance of a below-1,075 shortage declaration in 2018.

As a science-policy communicator, I’m fascinated with the way “1,075” has become such a useful shorthand for a complex set of issues. The origin of its importance lies in the 2007 “Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead”. The rules are complicated: every year in August, the Bureau of Reclamation runs its Colorado River Simulation System (CRSS) model, a dynamic simulation that takes current reservoir levels, projected demands and forecasts for the coming months, and estimates the elevation of Lake Mead the following Jan. 1. That estimate (and an accompanying one for Lake Powell, the big reservoir upstream) triggers a number of policy responses. If there’s a bunch of extra water in Lake Powell, we enter one of a couple of operating regimes under which what I’ve come to call “bonus water” can be released from Powell to prop up Lake Mead, a process intended to “equalize” the levels between the two reservoirs.

River Run now open — The Littleton Independent

Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.
Oxford Reach Whitewater Park Looking Upstream Toward Oxford Avenue via Arapahoe County.

From The Littleton Independent (Tom Munds):

About 125 invited guests gathered for the Aug. 25 official River Run Recreational Project opening, while perhaps proof of the project’s success was the fact that there were dozens of children on the playground and dozens of enthusiasts surfing the South Platte River.

The river amenities that made surfing possible drew a lot of attention…

Nancy Doty, Arapahoe County commissioner, said during the River Run opening ceremonies the project is an example of great unified cooperation.

She said the project became a reality through the efforts of the South Platte River Working Group. The group membership is made up of individuals representing Englewood, Sheridan, Littleton, Arapahoe County, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Urban Drainage and Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The group’s proposals are aimed at creating more recreational opportunities along the seven miles of the South Platte River that run through Englewood, Littleton and Sheridan. River Run is the first major project undertaken and includes a playground, pavilion, trailhead and restrooms set along the eastern bank of the river. Crews have transformed and beautified both banks of the river, and paved trails provide ADA access to the banks of the river, where the chutes create whitewater for tubers, boaters and surfers.

Grants from Arapahoe County Open Space fund as well as money Englewood received from the open space fund and from lottery funds provided the roughly $800,000 needed to construct the trailhead.

Another trailhead amenity was funded recently when Great Outdoors Colorado approved Sheridan’s grant request for $350,000 to construct and equip the playground adjacent to the river…

Other river amenity projects are planned or under construction. For example, South Suburban Parks and Recreation District applied for a Great Outdoors Colorado grant to construct a walking and running trail along the east bank of the river from Union to Oxford avenues. The estimated cost of the east-side trail is about $3.3 million.

There are plans for bank enhancements along much of the seven-mile stretch as well as creation of a whitewater tubing and boating channel between West Union and West Oxford avenues. Smaller trailheads are planned at Union and Belleview avenues.

Warmer world may not impact Upper #ColoradoRiver groundwater — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Groundwater movement via the USGS
Groundwater movement via the USGS

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A new U.S. Geological Survey finds groundwater levels in the Upper Colorado River Basin may hold steady over the rest of this century despite a warming climate.

The revelation comes just months after another study by the same agency found that groundwater accounts for 56 percent of streamflow in the Upper Colorado basin.

The studies offer some hope of groundwater helping mitigate other water-related impacts of a changing climate in coming decades. Perhaps most importantly, groundwater could help maintain later-season streamflows at a time when snowpack runoff is expected to occur earlier in the year, resulting in additional strains on water supplies and reservoir storage during the summer months.

The climate-change study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. It finds that increased precipitation predicted by climate-change models should be enough to offset the impacts of warmer temperatures on groundwater levels in the basin.

Fred Tillman, a USGS scientist and the report’s lead author, said researchers considered how groundwater outputs and inputs would be affected by climate change. Earlier snowmelt as temperatures warm will mean native vegetation greens up and begins using water through a process called transpiration earlier each year. This and more evaporation of water from soils and water bodies will increase water loss from the basin.

“We knew that we had more going out from the higher temperatures. What we found was, well, we actually had more precipitation coming in too, according to these (climate-change) models,” Tillman said.

Researchers view the base flow of streams as a proxy for the groundwater discharge into them, apart from surface flows from snowmelt and rain.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs, said one thing water managers have been concerned about is that future late-summer base streamflows will be extremely low as the climate changes. He said he hasn’t yet read the new study, but it may be that groundwater levels will hold up better than expected due to higher precipitation.

“Perhaps the late-season, low-flow period will not be as bad as we once thought it would be,” he said.

“With a little more groundwater it offers a little more help” late in the season, Kuhn said.

However, Kuhn also said climate models generally suggest that precipitation will increase in the basin in more northern and eastern regions, while dropping off to the south and west.

Tillman noted the same thing, and said a follow-up study by the Geological Survey will break down its groundwater projections by sub-regions, and will likely show that some sub-regions to the south will show losses in groundwater, while some in the north will gain.

The study also doesn’t try to factor in how changes in future land use and human activities could affect groundwater levels, something Tillman said would require accounting for a whole other set of projections. Kuhn said increased transpiration will occur not just for native vegetation but things such as lawns, parks and crops.

The river district has been involved with another study on how vulnerable Lake Powell may be to drought in coming decades. Upper Colorado River Basin states rely on water stored in the reservoir to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact, so they can avoid a so-called compact call that would affect water users in Colorado. Powell also is a sizable source of hydroelectric power in the region.

Kuhn said that while average precipitation may go up in the region, climate models also suggest a warming atmosphere would lead to more severe dry and wet periods. The preliminary findings of the study the river district is leading are that another drought like the one that occurred in the early 2000s could empty Powell if it’s half-full, as is now the case.

As water officials try to figure out how to address future supplies, Geological Survey researchers believe the findings of their studies point to the importance of thinking about surface water and groundwater in the Upper Colorado basin as a single resource, and managing water accordingly. Tillman said hydrologists know that generally speaking, groundwater and surface water are all the same water, originating from precipitation, but it’s good to get that message out.

He said researchers on the two Geological Survey studies weren’t working together, but their results dovetail in terms of helping people understand the importance of groundwater in the basin and then looking at how that groundwater might change in the future.

The earlier study evaluated water chemistry and streamflow data at 146 sites to help separate out what role groundwater plays in streamflows in the basin. It found that a greater percentage of streamflow is from groundwater lower in the basin, with a greater percentage of snowmelt and precipitation directly contributing to streamflows in the high-elevation headwaters.

It also estimates that 82 percent of groundwater that discharges to streams in the basin is lost to factors such as evaporation, plant transpiration and water diversions, and it points to the threat that groundwater pumping poses to groundwater levels.

Kuhn said that in Colorado, almost all groundwater in the Colorado River basin is considered tributary groundwater that originates as snow and ice and rain and makes its way out of the ground and into streams within months or years. Such groundwater is different from deep groundwater supplies in places like eastern Colorado, and Kuhn said that from a management perspective, tributary groundwater already is subject to surface-water-type appropriation laws in the state.

“That groundwater, basically it is Colorado River water,” he said.

#Kansas, #Nebraska, #Colorado reach consensus on Republican River

Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper's office.
Photo: The commissioners of the Republican River Compact Administration sign the long-term resolutions on August 24: (from left) Commissioner David Barfield, Chief Engineer, Kansas Department of Agriculture; Commissioner Dick Wolfe, State Engineer, Colorado Division of Water Resources; Commissioner Jeff Fassett, Director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, via Governor Hickenlooper’s office.

Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper today announced Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska established an agreement this week in the longstanding conflict over water from the Republican River basin, as the Republican River Compact Administration signed two resolutions.

Representatives from the three states have been meeting monthly for over two years, in an effort to change the approach and improve how they manage interstate water matters. This effort has created a new focus on transparency and certainty as all three states work to serve their water users. The intent of these resolutions is to replace the need for annual reviews and instead provide long-term surety to water users.

“We are proud to be part of this historic agreement,” said Hickenlooper. “For the first time since signing the Compact, the three states have worked together to resolve their issues without litigation and have brought certainty to the water users in the basin. This is how we do our best work in Colorado and defines our approach to addressing our water challenges — cooperation and collaboration.”

“Signing these resolutions shows the commitment from all three states to engage in open and transparent dialogue for the past two years,” said Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. “This long-term agreement will ultimately improve water management for water users in Kansas as well as Nebraska and Colorado.”

The resolutions signed this week will provide flexibility and greater certainty to all water users in the region, while remaining consistent with the terms of the Republican River Compact and the Final Settlement Stipulation of 2002. The three states have been involved in various litigation and arbitration for the past 15 years over administration of water in the Republican River basin, and this agreement is a significant and positive step forward, with the next steps focusing on working with the basin’s water users to implement these agreements.

“It has been a priority of the states to collaborate on interstate water matters to ensure each state’s water users are protected while also maintaining a positive working relationship between the compacting states. “These resolutions represent a long-term strategy for representing each state and ultimately improving water management for water users in all three states,” said Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts.

The Republican River basin begins in the plains of eastern Colorado and flows through northwest Kansas and southern Nebraska, ultimately returning to Kansas. The Republican River Compact was negotiated during the early 1940s with participation by the states of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska and a representative of the President of the United States. The Compact was formally signed in 1942. Its purposes are to provide for equitable division of such waters, remove all causes of controversy, promote interstate comity, promote joint action by the states and the United States in the efficient use of water and the control of destructive floods, and provide for the most efficient use of waters in the Republican River basin.

The state official in each of the three states who is charged with administering water law serves on the Republican River Compact Administration. For more information about the Compact, go to the following websites:

Colorado: http://water.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/Compacts/RepublicanRiver/Pages/RepublicanRiverHome.aspx
Kansas: http://agriculture.ks.gov/divisions-programs/dwr/interstate-rivers-and-compacts/republican-river-compact
Nebraska: http://dnr.nebraska.gov/iwm/republican-river-compact-2

Colorado Water: The importance of ditch riders — 9News.com

Turning a handwheel, photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com
Turning a handwheel, photo by Havey Productions via TheDenverChannel.com

From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):

They are a big part of the Colorado Water story, with a long tradition in the state. Hundreds of ditch riders work every day to make sure needed water gets to farms and ranches, among other places.

In the quiet reflection of the morning is where ditch rider Randy Ebert does much of his work every day, to make sure a precious resource keeps flowing across Colorado.

“There’d be a lot of dry land around here without the water,” he said. “I mean, there’s a lot of it right now.”

He works for the Farmers Independent Ditch Company, which ensures water rights are properly administered to their clients through the flow of water.

“If they order water in, I open it up, give them their share of the water,” Ebert said…

“It’s really rewarding when you drive around and see the crops that you delivered water to and then the guys work hard to raise and they do a great job of it with what they have,” he said. “It’s really rewarding.”

For Ebert, it’s a reward in and of itself.

Good luck Chris Woodka — no one can replace your work on the water beat

Chris Woodka photo via The High Country News
Chris Woodka photo via The High Country News

From The Pueblo Chieftain:

Chris Woodka, a longtime editor and reporter at The Pueblo Chieftain, recently accepted the position of issues management program coordinator for the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, effective Sept. 12. He will work with the district and Bureau of Reclamation on the Arkansas Valley Conduit and other projects.

Woodka, 61, has worked at The Chieftain since 1985. For the past 12 years, he has been on special assignment as a water reporter, as well as filling various relief roles for other editors and reporters. Over the years, he has received numerous awards from newspaper associations and various community groups.

Woodka will continue to write Monday Morning Special, which appears weekly in The Chieftain’s Life section.

Click here to read the Coyote Gulch post about Chris from Matt Jenkins writing in The High Country News: From the post:

…Woodka, 57, is Colorado’s sole remaining full-time water reporter. He has worked hard to separate himself from the Chieftain’s editorial slant, and has built a reputation for his fair coverage of an extremely complicated and contentious subject. “You kind of make your own luck,” Woodka says. “Your sources have to be good, and you don’t burn them.”

Steve Henson, the Chieftain’s current managing editor, serves as a deliberate editorial firewall between Woodka and the publisher’s suite. “I kind of make my own assignments,” Woodka says. “Steve will let me know the publisher’s concern, and what the publisher would like to see in the story.”

“But,” he adds, “that’s not always the story that he gets.”

Click here to view all the Coyote Gulch posts with Chris in the text and click here for posts from the old blog — 2003 to February 2009.

Historic McElmo flume awarded final funding — The Cortez Journal

McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal
McElmo Creek Flume via the Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A recently constructed interpretive pullout off U.S. Highway 160 east of Cortez showcases the wooden irrigation flume, which was built in the 1890s to deliver water to the Ute Mountain tribe and pioneer farms.

The restoration grant requires a $60,000 match, and a fundraising effort is underway. Once that is raised, the flume’s main wooden trough structure will be repaired and restored, completing the multiyear project.

“Right now, people will stop at the interpretive pull-off and see that the flume needs repair, and that is what this grant will be paying for,” Towle said, adding that as much original wood as possible will be used in the restoration.

Repairing the foundation was the priority. In 2014, a $123,000 state historical grant was awarded to the county to rebuild the foundation and stabilize the structure to withstand flows in McElmo Creek. That foundation work was completed in February.

The paved highway pullout, parking lot, interpretive panels, information, kiosk, sidewalk and flume overlook were made possible by $250,000 in funding allocated by the National Scenic Byways Program in 2013.

The historic flume is an agricultural artifact that symbolizes the beginning of the city of Cortez and surrounding communities, Towle said.

“Cortez would not be here without these first irrigation systems,” she said. “It is important for visitors coming through to learn the story about how the efforts of early farmers and ranchers grew the town and got us to where we are today.”

Final interpretive panels on water history are still being created for the flume overlook. Also a regional tourism map will be installed at the kiosk highlighting local attractions.

Throughout the project, contributions have been made by many agencies and organizations, including Montezuma County, Southwestern Water Conservation District, Southwest Roundtable, Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District, and the Ute Mountain Tribe. The Colorado State Historical grants awarded for the project are derived from a portion of gambling revenues in Cripple Creek, Central City, and Black Hawk.