Marys Lake, Lake Estes to be lowered for maintenance — The Estes Park Trail-Gazette

Marys Lake aerial photo via the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, October 2016.
Marys Lake aerial photo via the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, October 2016.

From Reclamation via the Estes Park Trail-Gazette:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that it will begin shutting down this week the Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope system for winter maintenance and system inspection.

Peter Soeth, a Bureau spokesperson, said in an e-mail that beginning Oct.27 diversions will first be stopped through the Adams Tunnel followed by the draining of Marys Lake and Lake Estes by the morning of October 31.

Flatiron Reservoir will be drained by November 4.

Maintenance activities include annual maintenance for Marys and Pole Hill powerplants, as well as the Charles Hansen Feeder Canal.

The inspection and maintenance is expected to last through the middle of December. Once complete, the system will begin diversions through the Adams Tunnel and preparing for the 2017 water year.

#ColoradoRiver: Interior Department Releases Final Environmental Impact Statement for Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management

Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation
Glen Canyon Dam releases. Photo via Twitter and Reclamation

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

The U.S. Department of the Interior today released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan (LTEMP) for Glen Canyon Dam operations. The LTEMP will provide a framework for adaptively managing Glen Canyon Dam over the next 20 years with the goal of creating certainty and predictability for water and power users while protecting environmental and cultural resources in Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River ecosystem.

“The Colorado River and Grand Canyon National Park are vital resources in the Western United States, and the spirit of cooperation and commitment to their protection and preservation is exemplary,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor. “This work reflects the dedication and expertise of the Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service as well as our state, local and tribal partners who have worked through the complex challenges we face in protecting our finite resources.”

The FEIS presents a thorough analysis of complex river processes and interests and identifies a preferred alternative that ensures Glen Canyon Dam will continue to meet its purposes while improving downstream resources and recreational experiences.

This is the first Environmental Impact Statement for Glen Canyon Dam since 1995 and it marks an ongoing focus on balancing project purposes with natural and cultural resources protection. Today’s release culminates an open and transparent process based on the best-available science, extensive public involvement and active collaboration with stakeholders, cooperating agencies and traditionally associated tribes. Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and National Park Service jointly led the FEIS completion in coordination with 15 cooperating agencies—including three federal and six non-federal agencies and six American Indian Tribes. In addition to addressing suggestions, concerns and comments from those cooperating agencies, the FEIS fully considered all comments received during a 122-day public review and comment period that ended on May 9, 2016.

The FEIS was prepared in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and evaluated potential environmental impacts of seven alternatives—including one no-action alternative that would continue operation as guided by the previous 1996 Record of Decision. The FEIS team identified a preferred alternative that improves river system conditions and minimizes adverse impacts to downstream natural, recreational and cultural resources while meeting obligations for water delivery and hydroelectric power generation. The preferred alternative continues high-flow experiments linked to adaptive triggers such as sediment and hydrology and includes fish conservation and management tools to improve fisheries and the aquatic food base.

LTEMP and this FEIS support the ongoing focus of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, which includes a diverse group of 25 river system stakeholders. The FEIS team received letters expressing support for the preferred alternative from the seven Basin States, National Parks Conservation Association, Western Area Power Administration, Navajo Nation, river rafting guides and many members of the public.

The FEIS Notice of Availability was published in the Federal Register on Friday, October 7. The Department of the Interior will issue a final Record of Decision following a minimum 30-day public review period. The Record of Decision will select the alternative that will be implemented and discuss all factors leading to that decision.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement is available online at:

Compact disc copies of the document are also available at the following locations:

  • J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah
    295 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112
  • Cline Library, Northern Arizona University
    1001 S. Knoles Drive, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011
  • Burton Barr Central Library
    1221 North Central Avenue, Phoenix, Arizona 85004
  • Page Public Library
    479 South Lake Powell Blvd., Page, Arizona 86040
  • Grand County Library, Moab Branch
    257 East Center Street, Moab, Utah 84532
  • Sunrise Library
    5400 East Harris Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada 89110
  • Denver Public Library
    10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver, Colorado 80204
  • Natural Resources Library, U.S. Department of the Interior
    1849 C Street NW, Main Interior Building, Washington, DC 20240
  • Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 700 cfs in the Blue River below the dam

    Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation
    Green Mountain Dam via the Bureau of Reclamation

    From email from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

    Green Mountain Reservoir continues to release 700 cfs to the Blue River to meet water delivery obligations. It is expected to continue for at least the next couple of weeks. Green Mountain Reservoir release includes storage water to support the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, contract obligations and replacement water for the Colorado River Collection System.

    Lake Nighthorse: “It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach” — Manuel Heart

    Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.
    Lake Nighthorse September 19, 2016.

    Representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe were in Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama’s eighth annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, according to this report from Jim Mimiaga writing for The Cortez Journal. President Obama was informed that the Ute Mountain Utes back a Bears Ears National Monument and fulfillment of original intent of the Animas-La Plata Project to build supply infrastructure. Here’s an excerpt:

    …councilwoman Regina Whiteskunk…also reminded Obama of the Bears Ears Monument plan, which is supported by a coalition of five tribal leaders in the Southwest.

    “I was able to shake President Obama’s hand and said ‘Remember Bears Ears,’ and he responded, ‘There is still work to do’,” Whiteskunk said. “It was not a ‘No,’ so I am pushing forward and maintain the thought that it can still get done.”


    Currently, a key issue for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe is delivering water to the reservation from Lake Nighthorse near Durango, [Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart] said. The tribe owns 40 percent of the water in the 120,000-acre-foot reservoir, and a component of the Animas-La Plata Project built to satisfy Ute Mountain, Southern Ute and Navajo water rights. But while much of the lake’s water is owned by the Ute Mountain Utes, it is out of reach for practical uses, Heart said.

    “It’s like a pitcher on a high shelf we can’t reach. We need delivery to our land, which was initially promised but was eventually cut out, so we have been fighting to get that back.”

    One possibility is to use local rivers to deliver the water to the reservation.

    It could be released from the Lake Nighthorse spillway into the Animas River, then flow to the San Juan River, which meets up with the Ute Mountain reservation near the Four Corners Monument.

    Heart said that idea is being discussed, but has legal and topographical challenges.

    “From the San Juan River, it would require many miles of new pipe and pumping the water uphill before it could arrive at our farms,” he said.

    Delivering it to the tribe via pipelines directly from higher Lake Nighthorse is preferred because it would be gravity-fed, he said. Piping it to Jackson Reservoir could allow it to be delivered via the Mancos River to reservation lands.

    “Delivering it to our land gives us control of our water to grow our economy, expand our farms or build a new community on the east side,” Heart said.

    Federal support is key to getting things done in Indian Country, he said, and Obama’s annual Tribal Nations Conference helps influence federal officials to act and secure funding.

    “I have been so privileged to learn from you while visiting more tribal communities than any other President,” Obama said at the conference. “We haven’t solved every issue. We haven’t righted every wrong. But together, we’ve made significant progress in almost every area.”

    Under the Obama administration:

  • The White House Council of Native American Affairs was created, a cabinet level office that focuses on Indian Country issues.
  • More than 428,000 acres of tribal homelands were restored back to their original owners, and the Cobell settlement was signed into law that established the $1.9 billion Land Buy Back Program to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trusts.
  • Reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act so that tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence against women in Indian Country, whether they’re Native American or not.
  • Provided health care services in Indian Country through the Affordable Care Act, including permanent reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
  • Whiteskunk praised Obama for “elevating the voice of Native Americans and valuing us” during his administration. In her meetings with federal officials, she pushed for improved consultation with tribes on projects and laws affecting Native American lands.

    “We discussed in great length about how consultation is either weak, vague or not consistently applied,” Whiteskunk said.

    “As president he has reached out to work with Native Tribes,” Heart said. “He is the first president to hold these annual meetings, and the hope is that the next president will continue them, so we have to wait and see.”

    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Conservation Prevents #ColoradoRiver Shortage Declaration — Circle of Blue #COriver

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

    From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

    A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin.

    The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees lake levels, forecasts that Arizona, California, and Nevada will draw less than 7 million acre-feet from the river this year, some 500,000 acre-feet less than they are permitted to consume and the lowest since 1992. (An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, enough water to flood an acre of land with one foot of water.) At Lake Mead’s current water level, 500,000 acre-feet equals slightly more than six feet in elevation — just enough water to tip the lake into shortage levels, if it had been used.

    The savings have been building. Four major conservation programs since 2014 have added roughly 10 feet of water to Lake Mead since 2014, according to Rose Davis, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Office. These programs, collaborations between federal, state, and local agencies, pay farmers not to grow crops, line earthen canals with concrete to prevent leaks, remove grass from golf courses, or install more efficient irrigation equipment. The savings are banked in Lake Mead.

    “These programs are working,” Davis told Circle of Blue. “These partnerships are working. They are making a difference.”

    The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January. Those dates are important because the August study determines how much water the Bureau will release from Lake Powell into Lake Mead the following year and whether there will be a shortage in the three lower basin states. A shortage, which has never been declared, happens when the August study shows that Lake Mead will be below 1,075 feet in January. That will not happen next year. The lake’s forecasted water level in January is 1,080 feet.

    The benefits of conservation spread beyond next year. The risk of a shortage in the near-term will go down. The last time the Bureau ran the numbers, in April, the results showed a 56 percent chance of shortage for 2018. The updated calculations, which will be published next week, will show “greatly reduced odds,” Davis said.

    Water managers in the basin say that conservation gains can be maintained and extended. “All of the programs are long-term, reaching out several decades,” Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, told Circle of Blue.

    More Challenges Still To Come
    Even with the conservation success, hard decisions are close at hand. One, the basin must come to terms with the “structural deficit.” This is the term water managers use to describe a basic imbalance: in a year with average water releases from Lake Powell, the water level at Lake Mead will drop by roughly 12 feet because demand exceeds supply. James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, called the structural deficit “a root discussion over the last several years” among all seven basin states.

    Two, the risk calculations will change as the four states in the upper basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — pull more water out of the basin.

    Three, water managers and politicians alike must figure out what to do about the Salton Sea, a festering sore in the basin’s politics. The sea — in fact, a lake — was created in 1905 when the Colorado River burst through a dike and filled a desert depression that had no ocean outlet. In later years, the Salton, now California’s largest lake, swelled with farm drainage and grew saltier from evaporation.

    The Salton has been shrinking since 2003, when a historic agreement between Imperial Irrigation District and state, federal, and tribal agencies resulted in a large transfer of water from farm to city, which reduced farm runoff. As part of the agreement, Imperial delivered water to prop up the lake, which is also an important habitat for birds migrating along the Pacific flyway. But those deliveries will cease at the end of 2017, after which the lake will go into a tailspin, shrinking rapidly and becoming several times saltier than the ocean. Pesticides, salts, and toxic dust on the seabed poses an immediate health threat to the people of the Coachella Valley, Imperial County, and Mexicali, a border city of 1 million people. A solution to the Salton Sea problem is inevitably tied to Colorado River issues upstream.

    “Being one of the largest users on the river, it’s in our best interest to look out for and promote the health and welfare of the system as a whole,” Marion Champion, spokeswoman for Imperial Irrigation District, told Circle of Blue. “That said, we will need some reassurances from the state of California that it will live up to its restoration promises for the Salton Sea.”

    Imperial has the largest allocation of Colorado River water — 3.1 million acre-feet, more than one-fifth of the river’s average annual runoff — of any user in the basin. Champion said that she expects Imperial to be a part of a basin-wide drought plan, but only if the Salton Sea is addressed, with either money or water, or both.

    “That participation is contingent on a state led restoration plan and implementation commitment to ensure our community’s public health is protected,” she said.

    #ColoradoRiver: Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project Progresses with Two New Contracts Awarded #COriver

    The $1 billion Navajo-Gallup water pipeline will take 12 years to build and could serve as many as 250,000 people a year by 2040, officials say. Image via Cronkite News.
    The $1 billion Navajo-Gallup water pipeline will take 12 years to build and could serve as many as 250,000 people a year by 2040, officials say. Image via Cronkite News.

    From the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

    The Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded two new contracts totaling $66.3 million for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. Those contracts continue construction work on a project that will provide long-term, sustainable water for 43 chapters of the Navajo Nation Reservation, the southwest area of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and the City of Gallup, New Mexico.

    On September 7, 2016, Reclamation awarded a $37 million design-build contract to CH2M for the design and construction of a water treatment plant along the project’s Cutter Lateral. Water for the Cutter Lateral will be supplied from Navajo Reservoir via Cutter Reservoir near Bloomfield, N.M. In addition to a state-of-the-art water treatment plant, work under this contract will include design and construction of a clearwell pumping plant, 500,000 gallon regulating tank, 2,500 square foot operation and maintenance building and 21,400 feet of pipeline. The plant will have a phased water treatment system to accommodate increasing flows over time up to a future total capacity of 5.4 million gallons per day. Work under this contract is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019.

    On September 8, 2016, Reclamation awarded a second contract valued at $29.3 million to Moltz Constructors, Inc. for construction of Reach 22B of the Cutter Lateral, which will consist of 16 miles of 24-inch diameter pipe and two pumping plants. The pipeline is designed to handle flows up to 9.6 cubic feet per second and is scheduled to be complete in the summer of 2018.

    “Vital infrastructure is a key focus for President Obama, the Department of the Interior and Reclamation and we’re proud of the monumental work being accomplished on this project by our employees, contractors and partners,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “These awards mark a significant milestone for the project; all Reclamation construction along the Cutter Lateral is now either underway or under contract and we’re on track to begin water deliveries through the lateral in 2019.” said Brent Rhees, Director of Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region. The Navajo Nation is also moving forward with design and construction of downstream sections of the lateral under a financial assistance agreement with Reclamation.

    The Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project is the cornerstone of the San Juan River Basin in New Mexico Navajo Nation Water Rights Settlement Agreement. When complete, it will include approximately 300 miles of pipe, two water treatment plants, 19 pumping plants and multiple water storage tanks.

    Lake Nighthorse to Dryside pipeline construction begins — The Durango Herald

    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.
    Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

    From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

    For decades, water storage and supply infrastructure in Southwestern Colorado have been slow-moving, underfunded dreams. Lake Nighthorse, a critical component of the grandiose Animas-La Plata Project intended to supply water to Native American tribes, was filled in 2011, but it took five years before the very first mechanism to transport water from the storage facility would be realized.

    On Wednesday, water authorities, Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribal leaders and La Plata County officials gathered at the lake just west of town to commemorate the watershed moment…

    The 4.6-mile pipeline will wind west and then northward through La Plata County to Lake Durango, cutting through Bureau of Reclamation land as well as private properties. Some of the private homeowners consented to the infrastructure in exchange for taps.

    Charlie Smith, general manager of the Lake Durango Water Authority, said more than 100 property owners, who either haul water or depend on low-quality wells, are on a waiting list for taps, which come at a price of about $10,000. Lake Durango supplies potable water to households in Durango West I and II, Rafter J, Shenandoah and Trapper’s Crossing.

    The pipeline will add to Lake Durango’s reserves, and will be constructed with $2.8 million from the Lake Durango Water Authority and $1 million each from the two tribes as well as loans and grants from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The sum contributed by the Lake Durango Water Authority includes water purchased from Animas-La Plata.

    Construction is expected to be complete by the end of summer 2017, which will be only the beginning of the Animas-La Plata Project’s long-range vision.

    The Ute Mountain Utes have the ability to extend the pipeline in the future, and the San Juan Water Commission, a New Mexico water authority, is considering a main of its own from Lake Nighthorse to northern New Mexico. The Daily-Times of Farmington reported the commission will meet next month to discuss particulars of the proposal.

    As plans advance to remove water from the Animas River-fed Nighthorse, the water and shore remain free of recreationists. Bureau of Recreation officials said last week that the agency is in consultation with tribes and project partners to find the best recreation plan without compromising cultural resources.

    A draft recreation plan and environmental assessment was released last spring, and a final document is still to come.

    Meanwhile, preparatory infrastructure is underway at the lake, including a decontamination station, where boats will be checked for invasive species when recreation is permitted at the lake.

    Roadwork on a turn lane into Lake Nighthorse from County Road 210 began the first week of September.