Dolores River: Balancing streamflow forecast and boating releases from McPhee

Dolores River near Bedrock
Dolores River near Bedrock

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A sporadic 12-day boating release from McPhee dam into the Dolores River in June was hampered by uncertain runoff forecasts after a late-season snowfall, reservoir managers said at community meeting Tuesday in Dolores.

Boaters faced on-again, off-again announcements of whitewater releases from the dam, which complicated their plans for trips down the river. It was the dam’s first whitewater release since 2011.

A 22-day rafting season was forecast as possible in March when snowpack registered at 130 percent of its median normal. A two-month dry spell erased the advantage, and the release was adjusted to five to 10 days of boating for late May. The forecast then dropped to a three-day release in early June, and after it was confirmed days later, hundreds of boaters flocked to the Dolores as it filled below the dam.

“Small spills are the most difficult and tricky to manage,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages the reservoir.

But on the fourth day, managers said they realized the volume of river inflow was more than the reservoir could handle, and the dam release was extended nine additional days.

“The second spill was highly under-utilized,” said boater Kent Ford, who added that the lack of notice “killed a lot of multi-day trips.”

Vern Harrell, of the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Cortez, attributed the uncertainty to the narrow margin of runoff expected to exceed reservoir capacity.

The runoff forecast has a margin of error of 10 percent, “and this year, the spill was within that 10 percent,” Harrell said.

Decisions about dam releases rely on forecasts from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, which depends on Snotels that measure snowpack in the Dolores Basin.

When there is possibility for a small spill, managers don’t have the tools to give a lot of notice, Harrell said, so decisions are made day-to-day based on river inflow and reservoir levels.

“By May, all the Snotels are melted out, and we are in the blind,” he said.

In small spill years, managers said they err on the side of caution when announcing the number of days available for boaters. They want to ensure that the reservoir remains full, but they don’t want to end a dam release prematurely.

“We have to be careful we don’t leave boaters stranded on the river,” Harrell said.

Ken Curtis, an engineer with Dolores Water Conservancy District, said the priority is to fill the reservoir, and if there is excess water, it is managed for a boating release.

It was especially difficult to forecast runoff into the reservoir this year, he said, because much of the late-season precipitation came as rainfall.

“In May, we called off the spill because we were not reaching our reservoir elevation,” he said. “Then the forecasters bumped us up by 30,000 acre-feet,” enough for a small spill.

At the end of a five-day release, the forecast center showed a dip in river inflow, “so we started to shut the gates, but the river inflow was hanging in there,” and the spill was extended several days.

Managers acknowledged that they were rusty managing the release. They’d faced many dry winters that hadn’t filled the reservoir, and the unusual winter of 2015-16 complicated the matter.

Sam Carter, president of the Dolores River Boating Advocates, said boaters and the reservoir managers cooperate on potential spills, and this year was a learning experience.

Arkansas River Basin: “Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat” — Alan Ward

Twin Lakes collection system
Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

After a wet spring, summer has been relatively dry, and drought conditions are creeping back into Colorado, particularly over the Rocky Mountains in the center of the state and the Rio Grande basin.

River flows have dropped, so Reclamation and Pueblo Water are running water from accounts in upper reservoirs to Lake Pueblo. This serves two purposes: Creating space for imports next spring and providing water for the voluntary flow program that extends the commercial rafting season.

Finding the additional space in Clear Creek, Twin Lakes and Turquoise reservoirs was problematic this year, because reservoirs still were full from a very wet 2015. Twin Lakes filled early with native water and delayed imports from the Western Slope.

The Fryingpan-Arkansas Project has delivered more than 58,760 acre-feet so far, about 90 percent of what had been expected when allocations were made in May.

The Southeastern District, which determines allocations, will adjust agricultural deliveries, because cities already had requested less water than they were entitled to receive.

Pueblo Water imported about 13,500 acre-feet of water, about 92 percent of normal. Part of the reason was the lack of free space at Twin Lakes, and part was due to maintaining long-term limits since storage space was scarce anyway, said Alan Ward, water resources manager.

Pueblo Water will lease more than 21,700 acre-feet of water this year because of the potential storage crunch earlier this year.

Even so, Pueblo Water had 49,133 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of June, which was down from last year, but 17,600 acre-feet more than was in storage at the end of May. Most of the gain came in the upper reservoirs, and is now being sent to Lake Pueblo, where it is needed for leases and to make space, Ward said.

“Those releases help keep the rafting industry afloat,” Ward said.

@USBR Releases Draft Environmental Assessment for Tri-Districts Long-Term Excess Capacity Contracts

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Buck Feist):

The Bureau of Reclamation has released the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed Tri-Districts Long-Term Excess Capacity Contracts for public review and comment.

The Draft EA evaluates environmental impacts associated with Reclamation’s proposed approval of 40-year excess capacity storage, exchange, and conveyance contracts between Reclamation and East Larimer County Water District, Fort Collins-Loveland Water District, North Weld County Water District (collectively referred to as Tri-Districts).

“Excess capacity contracts are very important,” said Eastern-Colorado Area Manager, Signe Snortland. “These provide a needed benefit of water management flexibility, so Districts are better equipped to address drought, changes in municipal demand, and temporary changes in the watershed affecting water quality.”

Tri-Districts have annually requested annual excess capacity contracts to mitigate poor water quality conditions in the Cache La Poudre River due to increased particulate matter due to the High Park and Hewlett wildfires in 2012. The long-term contracts would allow Tri-Districts to utilize excess capacity in Horsetooth Reservoir for storage, exchange and conveyance of the Tri-Districts’ water supplies for delivery to the Soldier Canyon Water Treatment Plant. Each district would execute a separate contract with combined total exchange and storage contract volumes not to exceed 3,000 acre-feet (af).

The Draft EA is electronically available at http://www.usbr.gov/gp/ecao/nepa/cbt_tridistricts.html.

Comments on the Draft EA can be sent to: tstroh@usbr.gov; Terence Stroh, Bureau of Reclamation, 11056 West County Road 18E, Loveland, CO 80537; or faxed to 970-663-3212. For additional information or to receive a printed copy of the Draft EA, please contact Terence Stroh at 970-962-4369 or tstroh@usbr.gov. Reclamation requests comments on the Draft EA on or before August 5, 2016.

Open house for #Colorado Springs’ new SDS pipeline draws 1,200 — The Colorado Springs Gazette

Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities
Southern Delivery System map via Colorado Springs Utilities

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Matt Steiner):

More than 1,200 people endured 90-degree temperatures Saturday in eastern Colorado Springs to learn more about Colorado Springs Utilities’ new Southern Delivery System.

During the SDS Waterfest at the Edward W. Bailey Water Treatment Plant on Marksheffel Road, kids and adults interacted with community volunteers at hands-on educational booths. And most of those on hand were treated to a guided tour of the state-of-the art facility…

David Schara, 42, said he is a Colorado Springs native and has watched as CSU and city officials spent more than 20 years planning the Southern Delivery System which began piping water north out of Pueblo Reservoir in late April.

“It’s much needed,” David Schara said. “As the city grows, they had to do something.”

David Schara said he and others have been skeptical over the years since CSU introduced the SDS in the Colorado Springs Water Plan of 1996. According to Schara, the biggest concern was about the capacity of Pueblo Reservoir, which he said has been “pretty low at times.”

The Southern Delivery System cost $825 million. Forte said that presently the SDS takes care of about 5 percent of the Colorado Springs Utilities customers and produces about 5 million gallons of water each day.

During Saturday’s event, CSU handed out free water bottles and had refill stations throughout the event where visitors could rehydrate with water from the Pueblo Reservoir. The hands-on exhibits allowed kids to make snow, touch a cloud, shoot water from a fire hose, and learn more about how CSU uses water supplied by the SDS…

Forte said the Waterfest was designed to thank customers “for their patience” over the last couple of decades while the SDS became reality.

“Our citizen-owners have come out to see what we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years,” Forte said. “It’s just a fun day.”

#ColoradoRiverDay: Partnering to sustain the #ColoradoRiver for people and nature — Pat O’Toole #COriver

Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows
Hayfield message to President Obama 2011 via Protect the Flows

From The Montrose Daily Press (Pat O’Toole):

The announcement on June 23 that closer collaboration between drought resiliency programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior would be coming to the Colorado River basin was welcomed by those that depend on the river and viewed by many as an opportunity for innovative, collaborative approaches.

An opportunity for increased partnerships between government, producers, recreational interests and conservation groups in our shared struggle to sustain the river in the face of a relentless drought and an increasing urban population with the associated demand from municipal water providers.

To be sure, having endured 16 years of drought and counting, much of the Colorado River basin is in need of this attention. The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the Southwest and is often called the hardest working river in the West.

These challenges to the “mighty Colorado” pose serious risks to everyone and everything that depends on the river – from agriculture to our cities to fish and wildlife to our businesses.

The welcome collaboration partners the Bureau of Reclamation WaterSMART program and Natural Resources Conservation Service Environmental Quality Incentive Program in the Colorado River Basin.

Reclamation will work with irrigation districts, helping to upgrade infrastructure and improve overall efficiency in delivering water to farmers, while NRCS works with individual farming and ranching operations to make more efficient use of the water delivered.

Many Western water users employ WaterSMART grants and EQIP funds to address water quantity and quality challenges, and we appreciate the improved coordination that this Administration is employing to make those programs work better.

In fact, the renewed commitment to coordination between NRCS and Reclamation advances the philosophy embodied in the Bush-era “Bridging the Headgates” memorandum of understanding that emphasized technical support from these same federal agencies in a comprehensive manner.

This is a fine example of how good ideas can transcend politics, and it underscores that the only solutions lasting beyond the latest and greatest funding program are those that are collaborative in nature, that rise from the bottom-up, with input and support from those most directly impacted.

The federal government certainly cannot change the hydrology of the West, but there is a role it can play to support family farmers and ranchers. There is no single, “silver bullet” solution to Western water resources challenges.

Rather, a successful water shortage strategy must include a “portfolio” of water supply enhancements and improvements, such as water reuse, recycling, conservation, water-sensitive land use planning, and water system improvements.

New infrastructure and technologies can help stretch water for all uses. State water laws, compacts and decrees must be the foundation for dealing with shortages.

Coordinated programs like EQIP and WaterSMART can help stretch water supplies, but water conservation alone has its limits in certain situations. Developing strategic new water storage is necessary insurance against shortages.

And, urban growth expansion – the elephant in the room – should be contingent upon sustainable water supplies. Using Western irrigated agricultural water as the “reservoir” of water for municipal growth is not sustainable in the long run and can damage rural agricultural communities.

This portfolio of activities for smart, effective management of Western water resources can help decision-makers deal with the harsh realities of current and future water shortages due to drought and over-allocation of water to growing, predominantly environmental and municipal, demands.

Make no mistake; USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell have provided an example of how interests can collaborate in pursuit of a drought resilient future for a basin that is an economic engine for the entire country.

However, this coordination between Reclamation and NRCS is just one of many critical steps required to develop lasting solutions that will sustain our rural economies, natural resources, communities, and families across Colorado and the West.

Pueblo County gives federal Bureau of Reclamation land access for Arkansas Valley Conduit field work

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

In a brief meeting Monday, the Pueblo County commissioners approved a resolution granting permission to the federal Bureau of Reclamation to access county property for field work associated with the proposed Arkansas Valley Conduit.

Reclamation officials will conduct surveys and soil testing related to the conduit alignment, the commissioners learned. The county will be notified by Reclamation before entry onto county property is taken.

In voting to OK the resolution, Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen noted, “It makes me a bit more optimistic it (the conduit) could happen in my lifetime.”

SECWCD seeks $17.4 million for Pueblo Dam hydroelectric project

Hydroelectric Dam
Hydroelectric Dam

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A hydropower project at Pueblo Dam has been given a green light by the Bureau of Reclamation and is in line for a $17.4 million state loan.

A finding of no significant impact was issued last week for the project being spearheaded by the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Other partners in the project are Pueblo Water and Colorado Springs Utilities.

The Southeastern district will seek a $17.4 million loan for the project from the Colorado Water Conservation Board today. The loan would be for 30 years at 2 percent interest.

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam -- Photo/MWH Global
The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

A 7 megawatt hydropower facility is anticipated at the north outlet works, which was constructed by Utilities as part of the Southern Delivery System.

“A hydropower plant and associated facilities will be constructed at the base of Pueblo Dam, utilize the dam’s north outlet works and immediately return flows to the Arkansas River downstream of the dam,” said Signe Snortland, area manager of Reclamation’s Eastern Colorado Area Office.

The next step will be negotiation of a lease of power privilege contract.

About 1.4 miles of new power and fiber optic lines also will be constructed to connect the hydropower plant to Black Hills Energy’s substation at Lake Pueblo.

Construction is expected to begin later this year, with the first power generation to begin in 2018.