#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead Drops But Hoover Dam Powers On — Circle of Blue

Lake Mead turbines photo via <a href="http://corbittsnationalparks.com/sites/lakemead/lakemead.html">CorbittsNationalParks.co&lt;,/a&gt;</a>
Lake Mead turbines photo via CorbittsNationalParks.co<,/a>

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Six years ago, at the end of the summer of 2010, federal Bureau of Reclamation officials worried that Hoover Dam, the biggest hydropower enterprise in the Southwest, might soon go dark. Water levels in Lake Mead, the dam’s energy source, were falling, and Hoover was moving “into uncharted territory,” the facility manager told Circle of Blue.

Today, the story has a twist. Lake Mead is 10 feet lower, a new record set on May 18 that is re-broken every day now. Yet though water levels continue to decline, Hoover’s hydropower is in a much better spot. Thanks to investment in efficient equipment, managers are confident that they can still wring electricity from the Colorado River even as the surface elevation of Lake Mead drops below 1,050 feet, the uncharted territory that was assumed to be Hoover’s operating limit.

“As far as power goes, we can still operate below 1,050 feet,” Rose Davis, Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman, told Circle of Blue. Dam operators are revising the lower limit to 950 feet, a boundary that will be confirmed in October once the fifth and final more-efficient turbine is installed, Davis said.

The investments in wide-head turbines, stainless steel wicket gates, and digital controls are emblematic of the types of practices that are necessary for the drying Colorado River Basin. In order to maximize scarce water, authorities must do more with less. Water managers in the lower basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada, keen to avoid a disastrous downward spiral for Lake Mead that would threaten supplies for tens of millions of people, are spending more than $US 11 million on farm-efficiency and other projects that will conserve water and bank the savings in Lake Mead. Dam managers and power customers are adopting the same ethic for power generation.

Spending to Save Water and Boost Power
Electricity from Hoover is some of the cheapest in the country, at 1.83 cents per kilowatt-hour. Constructions costs for the dam were paid off years ago and the energy source, the water, comes from Mother Nature free of charge.

Customers in Arizona, California, and Nevada, the destination for Hoover’s output, would like to keep the cheap power flowing. That is why they spent $US 14.9 million since 2011 on the turbines and wicket gates.

The problem with Mead’s low water level for power generation is physics. Pressure differences in the water coming into the generators produce air bubbles on the turbine blades. As the water flows across the blades, the bubbles collapse and burst, which causes vibrations that can damage the generating unit. If the vibrations worsen, the unit must be shut down.

Wide-head turbines are designed to avoid these “rough zones” and operate smoothly at low reservoir levels. Four of Hoover’s 17 turbines have been fitted with wide-head models, and a fifth will be installed by October.

The wicket gates, on the other hand, allow for more precise control of water flowing through the turbines. They also reduce water leakage so that every drop that passes through Hoover can generate as much power as possible. Digital controls, which allow for more precise positioning of the wicket gates, have been installed at Hoover as well as at Davis and Parker dams, downstream on the Colorado.

“Any efficiency in hydropower means more power for our customers,” Kara Lamb told Circle of Blue. Lamb is the spokeswoman for the Western Area Power Administration, which markets Hoover’s power.

Though Hoover will not shut down any time soon, low water levels still reduce its output.

Generating capacity — the maximum amount of power that the dam is capable of producing — is down 30 percent from when Mead was full. For every foot that Mead drops, generating capacity decreases by five to six megawatts. Money is power, the old saying goes. So is water.

#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead hits new record low (since first fill) #COriver

Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.
Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam December 2015 via Greg Hobbs.

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (@RefriedBrean):

The nation’s largest man-made reservoir slipped to a new record low sometime after 7 p.m. Wednesday, and forecasters from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect see its surface drop another 2 feet through the end of June.

The latest dip into record-low territory comes as officials in Nevada, Arizona and California consider a new deal to prop up the declining lake by giving up some of their Colorado River water.

But some river advocates argue that those voluntary cuts could be rendered meaningless by proposed water developments that will further sap the overdrawn and drought-stricken river before it ever reaches Lake Mead…

Others see reason for hope.

Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the “silver lining of this cloud” is the cooperative work among water managers, regulators and policymakers across the river basin. She said some of those collaborations have already made a tangible difference at Lake Mead, where the water would be even lower than it is now without some of the banking agreements and conservation efforts agreed upon by the states.

The voluntary reductions being discussed are designed to stave off deeper, mandatory cuts for Arizona and Nevada if the lake sinks below levels outlined in a 2007 agreement.

Nevada would leave 8,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead each year under the first round of voluntary cuts, while Arizona would give up 192,000 of its 2.8 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation to benefit the reservoir…

The annual reductions would increase to 10,000 acre-feet for Nevada and 240,000 acre-feet for Arizona should Lake Mead drop another 30 feet to 1,045 feet above sea level.

Elevation 1,045 is also where California would see its first voluntary cuts, which start at 200,000 acre-feet a year and increase by 50,000 with every additional 5-foot drop in Lake Mead. Under existing law, California is not required to give up any of its 4.4 million acre-foot river allocation, which is the largest among the seven states that share the Colorado.

Lake Mead’s new record low erases the old mark of 1,074.71 feet above sea level set just over a year ago on June 26.

Federal forecasters expect the lake to finish this June at elevation 1,070.98. The last time Lake Mead had so little water in it was May 1937, the month of the Hindenburg disaster, when the reservoir was filling for the first time behind a newly completely Hoover Dam.

Record-low water levels present more of an access problem than a supply problem for the Las Vegas Valley, which depends on the lake for 90 percent of its water.

Southern Nevada Water Authority officials insist Nevada’s comparatively small 300,000 acre-foot share of the Colorado River can be stretched enough through reuse and conservation to serve the growing community for decades to come. But to keep that water flowing from the shrinking lake, the agency is spending almost $1.5 billion on a new deep-water intake and pumping station.

Wherever this year’s low-water mark eventually lands, the record is not expected to stand for long. The current forecast calls for Lake Mead to start 2017 about 4 feet higher than it is now, then dip downward again into record territory in April. The reservoir should bottom out near elevation 1,063 sometime in June 2017.

From The Las Vegas Sun (Daniel Rothberg):

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the elevation inched below the past record set last June, when it hit 1,074.70 feet, according to hourly data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency responsible for overseeing Western water management and the Hoover Dam.

“This is the early warning signal,” said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with Western Resource Advocates, a conservation group. He said that it signifies that more water is being used than the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, provides.

“It’s about an over-allocated resource,” he said.

Projections show the lake could continue dropping about 3 more feet through June, ebbing farther from a full capacity of 1,221 feet above sea level, which was last achieved in 1983. Facing a drought of more than a decade, it has dropped 130 feet since 2000.

“It’s a visual and physical manifestation for all of us,” said Rose Davis, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation. She added that water issues are plaguing countries throughout the world and that Lake Mead provides an illustration. “We might not see it globally but we can certainly see the bathtub ring.”

For now, the drop is largely symbolic since shortages are not likely to be triggered next year. But states could face cuts in 2018. No resource planning is an exact science, but the Bureau of Reclamation says there is a higher chance states will be asked to voluntarily reduce their Lake Mead allocations in 2018…

The river is fed by snow melt in the Rocky Mountains…

…the Southern Nevada Water Authority told the Sun earlier this month that it was building a water system impervious to elevation drops.

“We are building a water delivery system that will ensure a secure water supply regardless of lake levels in Lake Mead,” John Entsminger, SNWA’s general manager, said last week.

Last fall, the water authority completed a “third straw” project that would draw water from the bottom of the lake if surface elevations were to drop below a critical level of 1,000 feet. SNWA can call on more than 1 million acre-feet of water in the case of a shortage.

Beyond the drought and climate change, Beckwith said that what is also driving the drop is that Lake Mead loses more water than it takes in. He said states have come to recognize this in recent years.

Davis, with the Bureau of Reclamation, said that as states negotiate more voluntary reductions, individuals should also play a role in conservation and improving their water usage practices.

“(The water agencies are) doing what we can,” she said. “But it’s got to go farther than that. It’s got to go down to the individual.”

Many states, including Nevada, have made strides in conservation that focuses on the end-user, but Beckwith said more can be done.

“In the cities, we’re going to need to start deploying next-generation urban water efficiency measures,” he said. “How do you affect personal behavior rather than how do you just affect the toilets and the showers and the appliances that use water?”

Senate bill would ease conduit cost to Lower Ark towns — The Pueblo Chieftain

Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation
Arkansas Valley Conduit Comanche North route via Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A bill that would ease the cost burden of the Arkansas Valley Conduit to local communities got its first hearing in the U.S. Senate water and power subcommittee Tuesday.

The bill, S2616, would allow miscellaneous revenues from the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project to be applied to the local match of the conduit.

Legislation in 2009 allowed those revenues to be applied to the federal cost of building the $400 million conduit.

Because of the 65-35 cost share, however, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District will face heavy expenses. The bill would allow the district’s share to be paid first, with any funds not needed being used to repay the federal share.

Under the new law, the costs of Ruedi Dam, the Fountain Valley Conduit and South Outlet Works still would be repaid before funds could be used for the conduit. Like the Arkansas Valley Conduit, they are all parts of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project which was authorized in 1962.

The district is anticipating up to $100 million in loans from the Colorado Water Conservation Board — $60 million already has been committed, said Bill Long, president of the district board.

He presented the committee with a letter of support from the CWCB.

Long, a Las Animas businessman and Bent County commissioner, detailed the water quality problems faced by the Lower Arkansas Valley. Those include radioactivity, salts and sulfates. The 40 communities involved in the project serve more than 50,000 people and face increasingly strict regulatory standards, he said.

“S2616 will achieve the goal of significantly reducing federal outlays while providing a reliable, safe drinking water supply to the rural communities in the Lower Arkansas River Valley,” Long said. “The alternative — contaminated supplies which pose a significant threat to public health and prohibitive costs for individual system improvements — is unacceptable.”

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., a member of the committee, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are co-sponsors of the legislation.

“Water is a precious resource in Colorado and throughout the west. As home to the headwaters for 20 states, our communities continuously look for ways to conserve water,” Bennet said.

During the hearing, Estevan Lopez, commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation, lent his support to the bill.

“While we are still undertaking a detailed analysis of the full implications of such a reallocation of federal receipts, the reallocation of federal revenues to a non-federal entity for the benefit of that non-federal entity should be given careful consideration,” Lopez said.

Lopez said about $21 million in appropriations already has been provided through this year. At least $3 million is anticipated this year.

Construction on the conduit is expected to begin in 2019.

Once the conduit is completed, there would be a 50-year repayment of the 35 percent local share that is addressed in S2616.

Pueblo County Children’s Water Festival recap

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

You could sit all day and stare at the Pueblo Dam and not have a clue about why it’s there, who built it and what it’s for.

Or, if you’re lucky enough to be a fourth- or fifth-grader in Pueblo County, you could spend a day filled with fun activities and learn everything from water safety to the water cycle — including the Pueblo Dam and the kitchen sink.

The Children’s Water Festival began in 1999 and continues each year since, except for 2015, in early May at Colorado State University-Pueblo. About 1,800 fourth- or fifth-graders attend each year from Pueblo City Schools (D60), Pueblo County School District 70 and private schools.

In 2015, the festival was canceled, ironically, because of weather. It was wet and cold the entire month of May, but the big concern was the possibility of thunderstorms. The 2016 program was geared for fifth-graders, who had missed their chance as fourth-graders last year.

“The kids have always enjoyed it,” said Linda Hopkins, a retired employee of the Bureau of Reclamation, who helped coordinate the festival for many years.

She explained that the Pueblo event was patterned after the Nebraska Groundwater Festival, which started in Grand Island, Neb., in 1988.

Internally, Reclamation decided a Pueblo festival would be a good idea in 1999. By then, there were a few other water festivals for children in some other parts of Colorado.

Reclamation in 1999 was involved in one of its most controversial periods in Pueblo since it built Pueblo Dam in the 1970s. The dam was being reinforced to improve its stability, a move that some interpreted as a precursor to enlargement that could benefit large municipal users such as Colorado Springs and Aurora.

“Part of it was to get the bureau’s name out there in a positive way, but mostly it was to expose the kids to water information,” Hopkins recalled. The idea was that the children would take the information home and discuss it with parents or other family members.

Local water providers were immediately supportive, and continue to contribute resources and people each year. The festival has operated smoothly, organizing squadrons of teachers, students and parents armed only with coolers of sack lunches and a big appetite for a six-hour course of water games, lessons and contests.

This year’s festival, held last Tuesday at CSU-Pueblo, was sponsored by Reclamation, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, Pueblo West and the St. Charles Mesa Water Conservancy District. CSU-Pueblo makes the entire campus available for activities.

“We have a closeout meeting after the festival each year, then start meeting in September or October to plan the next year,” said Toni Gonzales, of the Southeastern district.

The presenters range from high school students to water professionals. With the exception of the Mad Science demonstration — a crowd-pleasing experience that goes beyond water — all of the presenters are volunteers.

“I came to one of these when I was in fourth grade,” said Tony Valenzuela, a member of the Future Farmers of America and Pueblo County High School student.

On Tuesday, he was demonstrating how to set irrigation siphon tubes. The process involves coaxing water through a 4-foot metal tube by capping one end and firmly jiggling it. Farmers use the skill to flood irrigate crops planted in furrows.

“Our family used to farm,” Valenzuela said.

Erik Duran, fire inspector for the Pueblo Fire Department, went over a math lesson with the visual aids of 1-gallon and 5-gallon water cans and a pumper truck that can hold up to 3,000 gallons.

“That hose can pump 1,500 gallons per minute, so how long would it take to empty the tank?” Duran said.

“Two minutes!” the students responded, but you could tell they were thinking: “How long before we get to shoot the hose at those targets?”

Nearby, other students were solving a simpler equation as workers from Pueblo Water demonstrated in real time what happens when a pipe leaks under pressure. Water was shooting out in a 20-foot plume and the goal appeared to be finding out the minimum time running through water (while screaming) in order to soak the maximum amount of clothing.

About three seconds, apparently.

If you go to a water festival, chances are good you’ll get wet.

On the stage of Hoag Hall, Pueblo County High School students gave a theatrical demonstration of the hydrologic cycle, including the popular song: “Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, Runoff.”

Well, it was mostly popular because the high school students invited all the teachers in the auditorium to join them onstage in an impromptu line dance.

Other outside displays demonstrated the water cycle, how to stay safe while boating or forest health. Inside, students in one room conducted a mock water court, applying Colorado’s water law to a manufactured dispute. In another, Water Wizards from competing schools answered some tough questions that ranged from global to local in scope.

Tough?

Such as: “How many gallons are used to produce the typical Pueblo lunch (hamburgers, French fries and a soda).”

That’s downright cruel to a kid who hasn’t eaten lunch yet and can look forward only to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the cooler. Still, one young lady had the gumption to answer: 1,500 gallons?

Correct, or roughly half a fire truck.

Water festivals are becoming more popular. Trinidad hosted its first in 2012, at the height of a drought. Salida and Colorado Springs are looking at starting their own.

After 17 years, Pueblo’s version continues to give kids a chance to soak up water knowledge.

Aspinall Unit operations update: Black Canyon peak flow target 5,000+ cfs over 10 days

Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn
Sunrise Black Canyon via Bob Berwyn

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The May 1st forecast for the April – July unregulated inflow volume to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 525,000 acre-feet. This is 78% of the 30 year average. Based on the May 1st forecast, the Black Canyon Water Right and Aspinall Unit ROD peak flow targets are listed below:

Black Canyon Water Right

The peak flow target will be equal to 3,349 cfs for a duration of 24 hours.

The shoulder flow target will be 300 cfs, for the period between May 1 and July 25.

Aspinall Unit Operations ROD

The year type is currently classified as Average Dry

The peak flow target will be 8,070 cfs and the duration target at this flow will be 10 days.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations ROD, releases from the Aspinall Unit will be made in an attempt to match the peak flow of the North Fork of the Gunnison River to maximize the potential of meeting the desired peak at the Whitewater gage, while simultaneously meeting the Black Canyon Water Right peak flow amount. The latest forecast for flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River shows a peak of around 2,000 cfs occurring this weekend. This peak is followed by a couple days of lower flows and then higher flows are expected to return by the next weekend. If the forecast for flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River continues to show a rise, the start of the ramp up towards the peak release may begin next week.

It is expected that the ramp up to the peak release will take 8 days. The current projection for spring peak operations shows flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon in the 5,000 to 5,500 cfs range for 10 days in order to achieve the desired peak flow and duration at Whitewater. If actual flows on the North Fork of the Gunnison River are less than currently projected, flows through the Black Canyon could be even higher.

With this runoff forecast and corresponding downstream targets, Blue Mesa Reservoir is currently projected to fill to an elevation of around 7499.0 feet with an approximate peak content of 654,000 acre-feet.

Dolores water district unveils $8 million in upgrades — The Cortez Journal

La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain
La Plata Mountains from the Great Sage Plain

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Five automated, high-tech pumping stations do the heavy lifting of pulling water from canals and pushing it through pipes to farms. Another pump system at the Great Cut Dike pulls water from McPhee Reservoir into the Dove Creek Canal and onto the pumping stations.

The Dolores Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation have teamed up for $8 million worth of upgrades for the 20-year-old pumping stations.

The four-year plan includes upgrading the electronic communication control system, or SCADA, which operates irrigation deliveries from a main control room.

So far, three out of six pumping plants have been overhauled: Fairview, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon. Next on the list are Dove Creek, Cahone, the Great Cut Dike and the SCADA system. Final upgrades will begin after irrigation seasons and be completed over the next two years.

Water officials and engineers touted the upgrades during a public tour Thursday at the Pleasant View pump station. At Ruin Canyon, two pumps were rebuilt, and two variable-speed electric motors were replaced. The electronic drive systems were also replaced.

The same upgrade occurred at the Ruin Canyon pump station, with a total cost for both upgrades of $1.25 million.

“They are more efficient, run cooler and require less maintenance,” said DWCD engineer Lloyd Johnson. “They will last another 20 to 25 years.”

The variable speed pumps adjust to irrigation demand. As the pressure fluctuates, the electronic drive system directs the pumps to adjust and keep the pressure steady. The drive system automatically turns on other static pumps as demand requires.

“We’re here to meet demand of the farmer,” said engineer Ken Curtis. “They pay high dollar for volume when they want it, and that is why we have a big crew of electricians and mechanics to ensure it is all working.”

The Bureau of Reclamation built the dams and reservoirs and pays to update them, said Brent Rhees, BOR’s regional director for the Upper Colorado River region.

He explained that a portion of power revenues generated from Glen Canyon dam and other BOR hydro-electric plants are set aside to pay for project upgrades like the one at the Dolores Project.

“These upgrades are satisfying to see because they keep us grounded in our mission to deliver water,” Rheese said. “The BOR has transitioned to resource management of existing projects.”

DWCD chipped in $1 million toward the project.

Forum explores new potential use of Dolores River — The Cortez Journal

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A documentary screening about the Dolores River was followed by a lively forum about the issue of low flows below McPhee Dam.

“River of Sorrows” was commissioned by the Dolores River Boating Advocates to highlight the plight of the Lower Dolores River.

The new film, which is for sale on the DRBA website for $10, had several showings April 30 at the Sunflower Theatre.

A panel answered questions from a moderator and from the audience. The panel included Josh Munson of the DRBA; Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District; Eric White of the Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch; Mike Japhet, a retired aquatic biologist with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and Amber Clark, of the Dolores River Dialogue.

What are the major challenges facing the Dolores River and what are the solutions for addressing those challenges?

Munson said the challenge is for people to see there are beneficial uses to Dolores River water other than just farming, such as for fishery health and boating. Changing the water rights system to allow individuals to sell or lease their water allocation so it stays in the river is one solution.

“Other uses helps to diversify the economy,” he said.

Preston said a major challenge is managing the reservoir in drought conditions. He said the goal is maximizing efficiencies in order to improve carryover in the reservoir year to year.

“High storage lifts all boats, including for recreation,” he said.

White said the film missed the compromises the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has made regarding water rights.

“Our allocation has dropped,” he said. “The tribe has fought for our water rights for a long time.”

Japhet said low flows below the dam are threatening three native fish: the flannelhead sucker, bluehead sucker, and roundtail chub.

“They have been declining precipitously,” he said.

Japhet called for more flexibility in how water reserved for fish and wildlife is managed out of McPhee. For example, 850 acre-feet diverted to the Simon Draw wetlands could be used to augment low flows on the Lower Dolores to help fish.

Clark said the big picture solution need to be collaborative and local, “or somebody from outside will find a solution for us.”

The group revealed the difficulty in finding a compromise that improves the downstream fishery and recreation boating but does not threaten the local agricultural economy.

“Use if or lose it water doctrine is a waste of water resources for farmers and conservationists,” Munson said. “The system does not allow for an individual to lease their water” for instream purposes.

Preston pointed out that in the last eight years, there has been four years where there was a release from the dam. The last one was in 2011, and this year a spill is uncertain.

“We are four for four. When we have excess water we release for boating and the fishery,” he said.
Japhet said the “elephant in the room” is if one of the three native fish species is petitioned for listing on the endangered species list.

“It would cause the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to take a very close look at what is going on with the water and fish resource,” he said. “The best solution is to be proactive and work something out locally to avoid a federal mandate telling us what to do.”

An audience member asked if the river itself has a right to water. Preston said the state instream flow program designates minimum flows for the river, including a 900 cfs below the confluence with the San Miguel. Below the dam the instream flow designation is 78 cfs.

“The river has a right to water, the fact that it was once wild should stay in people’s minds,” Munson replied. “The place itself has a beneficial use for fish, birds, otters. It’s recreation provides a way to make a living.”

Betty Ann Kohlner expressed concerns about McPhee water being used for hydraulic fracturing used for drilling natural gas.

Preston said about 4,000 acre-feet is available in McPhee for municipal and industrial purposes, including for fracking. But, he said, There has been limited use of the water for that purpose.

“If you can lease water to frack, why can’t water be leased for recreation and fish needs downstream from willing owners?” responded one man. “There is a contradiction in how we apply our understanding of how we should use water.”

Don Schwindt, of the DWCD board, pointed out that the Dolores River is part of the Colorado River compact that divides the state’s river water with several downstream states.

“Two thirds of the state’s water is required to leave by compact, and as it leaves it is available in the streams,” he said. “That two-thirds is more dominate than agricultural use.”

Dolores River watershed
Dolores River watershed