Gore Canyon Whitewater Park opens July 13 #ColoradoRiver

July 5, 2015

Upper Colorado Gore Canyon whitewater park

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Georga Feek):

After five long years, the $1.7 million Colorado River enhancement project, known as Gore Canyon Whitewater Park, is now complete and open.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board needed to approve the implication of the recreational in-channel diversion (RICD), known commonly as a whitewater park. After the Grand County team showed 100 letters of support from kayakers and other recreationalists, the RICD was awarded.

The project’s fundraiser and coordinator, Caroline Bradford, explained the RICD and its promise for future generations and recreation.

“You have a manmade structure in the river that diverts the stream flow in order to provide whitewater for recreation,” Bradford said. “We want people to be able to play on the river for generations to come.”

To fund such a massive project, Grand County citizens and boaters donated more than $600,000 to the cause. Eagle County citizens donated $340,000; Colorado Basin Roundtable Basin Account Fund granted $100,000; Colorado Water Conservation Board granted $400,000; and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs provided $200,000.

To commemorate its completion, a Grand Opening Celebration of the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park will take place on July 13, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a rafting trip until 3 p.m.

The day’s activities will include a whitewater paddling exhibition hosted by American Whitewater, a formal ceremony, a catered picnic, and then the raft trip from Pumphouse to Radium.

The cost to raft is $62 per person, and you need to RSVP to Caroline Bradford by July 6 at carolinebradford@wildblue.net or by calling 970-688-0812.

More whitewater coverage here


Can cloud-seeding ride to the rescue? — The Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

July 5, 2015

lowlakemead2012allenbest

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

After a so-so winter, the snow piled up through May in the mountains of Colorado, taking the edge off drought. This takes the edge off of the big Colorado River reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. But the overarching story at those reservoirs since 1999 has been of decline, even after a few big years.

In the last several years, there has been increasing talk about the potential for the two reservoirs to become empty. Las Vegas, reliant upon Lake Mead for most of its water, isn’t just talking about the possibility. It is nigh-on to completing a third tunnel into the reservoir, this one at a cost of $817 million and, unlike the others, at the very bottom of the reservoir, in case there’s nothing left of Lake Mead except for the Colorado River. That’s how dire Las Vegas, operating as the Southern Nevada Water Authority, takes this potential of long-term drought.

Eric Kuhn, the manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, spoke to the implications of this continuing drought at a forum in Colorado’s Summit County this spring. “Bad things happen when Lake Mead and Lake Powell get drained,” he said in an event covered by the Summit Daily News. He described the draining of Lake Mead as a distinct possibility in the next few years.

What about building a pipeline to the Mississippi River or some other water-rich location? “To expect that we can export our problems to somebody else, I just don’t see that somebody else will willingly accept them,” he said.

How about just making some more water? That effort began soon after World War II in different times of drought. Scientists at General Electric in New York state had discovered the general principle. And in some places of the West, cloud-seeding has occurred since the 1950s – including, at Vail Mountain, since 1978.

But does it work? Since the federal government yanked research dollars from cloud-seeding experiments in the 1980s, relatively little rigorous science had been conducted. Instead, there were the claims of commercial-cloud seeders, who predicted gains of 10 to 15 percent—as long as they had clouds to work with.

In 2004, Wyoming set out to fill that gap. An experiment that ultimately cost $14 million was designed by scientists working for a federal laboratory, the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Parallel mountain ranges southwest of Laramie, just north of the Colorado border, constituted the Wyoming laboratory. Propane was burned to loft silver iodide from ground-based generators into the clouds passing over the Sierra Nevada and Medicine Bow ranges. In the experiment, 154 storms during six winters had the temperatures needed for effective seeding, but only 118 had the moisture content. And of those, 18 were tossed out because of contamination problems.

Slim statistical evidence

Last December, at a meeting room in Cheyenne, scientists delivered the results. It took a full afternoon and the results were sometimes confusing. But hydrologists and meteorologists who listened to the proceedings remotely told me they had no trouble hearing the key statistics: just a 3 percent increase in precipitation but with the 28 percent probability that cloud-seeding had nothing to do with the increase. Only by creating models were researchers able to make a case that snowfall had been augmented 5 to 15 percent.

instumentationcloudseedingresearchcolorado

Taking stock of this and other winter weather-modification studies, the Bureau of Reclamation was unimpressed. “As such,” said the agency in a draft analysis released in February, “the ‘proof’ the scientific community has been seeking for many decades is still not in hand.”

Proof in science requires a 95 percent probability of causality. This is extremely difficult to achieve in complex atmospheric processes, whether cloud-seeding or many of the processes involved with a warming global climate.

In Wyoming, elected officials have decided the evidence to support cloud-seeding is strong enough to justify additional investments in various drainages—including the Wind River Range, which produces water for a tributary of the Colorado River—even as they have been loathe to admit the science of global warming.

Wyoming isn’t alone. Water agencies and cities from Denver to Los Angeles pay for seeding clouds in the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming, and representatives heard what they wanted to hear.

“It’s good evidence that it works,” said David Cole, who administers weather-modification programs for the Utah Division of Water Resources.

“There is always that question, ‘Can you prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt?’” he added.

From Los Angeles comes a similar appraisal of confirmation. “These results are consistent with historic studies,” said Tom Ryan, of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a consortium of agencies that collectively serves 18 million people.

I heard similar remarks from the Central Arizona Project, which uses a 336-mile-long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants, and pipelines to deliver water to Phoenix, Tucson, and cotton farms and golf courses along the way.

Along with Las Vegas, Arizona and California chip in to pay for cloud-seeding in Colorado and Wyoming.

Dan Breed, project scientist with NCAR, said that failing to achieve a 95 percent confidence level in results is not unusual in cloud-seeding studies. The fundamental problem, he says, is the complexity of atmospheric processes.

It’s the same challenge that has prevented most climate scientists from linking specific weather events, such as the September 2013 floods in Colorado, to rising global temperatures and the 3 to 5 percent observed increase in atmospheric moisture related to that warming.

“When it comes to the atmosphere, there are just too many variables, and that variability just keeps rearing its ugly head when it comes to cloud-seeding,” says Breed. “Even in this case, where we tried to make things as homogeneous as possible to reduce that variability, variability still kind of hurt us.”

Breed thinks research might better be invested in understanding specific atmospheric processes of wind, temperature, and precipitation. For example, how likely is it that silver iodide or other seeding agents released from the ground will get into the clouds?

Understandings of atmospheric processes, says Breed, has mostly come from observations, instead of experiments – because of that same variability.

This lack of certainty does not necessarily kill the prospects of cloud-seeding, as is demonstrated by the continued interest of Wyoming legislators in funding cloud-seeding.

Cloud-seeding to the rescue?

Can cloud-seeding the answer to the problems of California, now in its fourth year of drought, or of the Colorado River?

The river is notoriously strapped to meet all of the wants and maybe even the needs. River flows have declined 20 percent in the 21st century as compared to the last century.

Breed disputes conclusions that cloud-seeding doesn’t necessarily work. But he doesn’t see it as a game-changer for the Colorado River. Modifying the weather is a fairly straightforward, quick and inexpensive way to produce more water, but the gains are marginal. “It is not, he says, a magic bullet. “It won’t solve the problem.”

In his appearance in Summit County, Kuhn took a broad view, describing the 21st century as a time of transition. “After 100 years of develop more, develop more, develop more, we’re going to have to cut back our uses.”

That’s the difficult conversation now underway in California as residents in places like San Jose argue about lawn sizes and almond groves. It’s also the more earnest conversation that, despite the extraordinary rains in May, is getting underway in Colorado.

More cloud seeding coverage here.


Challenges to the #Colorado#River laid out at Ideas Fest — Aspen Journalism

July 5, 2015

Diversion structure Roaring Fork River via Aspen Journlism

Diversion structure Roaring Fork River via Aspen Journlism


From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Ranchers and farmers in western Colorado are incentivized to divert more water from the state’s streams and rivers than they need, an investigative reporter with ProPublica said at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week.

Abrahm Lustgarten, whose series “Killing the Colorado” is now being published by the nonprofit news organization, said that Western water laws “have become so antiquated that they now actually undermine conservation. They actually incentivize people to waste their water and use it in inefficient ways.”

And given the “use it or lose it” ethos that surrounds water rights, Lustgarten said that “landowners with rights wind up taking every drop that they are allowed out of the rivers, year in, year out, in order to prove up the need for their water.”

Lustgarten, who has won national awards for his environmental reporting at ProPublica, spent time with ranchers and ranch managers in the Gunnison area as part of the two years of research he put in for his stories.

Referring to Bill Ketterhagen, who runs a 750-acre ranch in the Ohio Creek valley, Lustgarten said “he and other ranchers tell me that if the law allowed them to use less water, without jeopardizing their legal rights to take it in the future, or if they could bank it — save it for a dry year — that they would.

“They could grow the same crops for the same profits, with less water. But instead, he diverts as much as he possibly can, even if it means letting the downstream streams run perfectly dry, and then pours it liberally over his own fields, basically whether he needs it or not.

“No one that I talked to harbors any illusions that this is sustainable,” Lustgarten said. “It’s a question of how many more years can the good times be strung along.”

(To listen to Lustgarten’s presentation, see the audio track below. The portion of his presentation that is quoted above begins shortly after the 20 minutes and 45 seconds mark, or at 20:45).

Set up for conflict

In “Killing the Colorado,” Lustgarten also explores cotton farming in Arizona, and how it is subsidized by the federal government, and how a huge coal-fired plant near Page burns coal to pump water through Arizona.

He also tells how the Colorado River has been shaped by the Colorado Compact of 1922, and how it overestimated the river’s annual flow, and thus the amount of water to be shared by seven states, including Colorado.

“The entire premise of the water supply for 40 million Americans amounts to wishful thinking,” Lustgarten said.

That point is also frequently made by filmmaker and photographer Peter McBride, who grew up in the Roaring Fork River Valley and since 2009 has been telling vivid stories about the challenges facing the Colorado River, and its dried-up delta.

“Part of the problem is that in 1922 they thought the river flowed at a higher rate than it does historically,” McBride said during an individual presentation at the Ideas Fest on Monday. “They called it a large soda, and we now realize it is a medium soda. But the compact agreement is based on a large soda. And all the straws are still in that, even though it is a medium. So we’ve totally bypassed the production of the river.”

During a following panel discussion on drought, McBride said the Colorado River consistently is last in line for its own water.

“Who is going to shoulder the deficit?” McBride asked. “Is it going to be ag? Are municipalities going to become more efficient? Or is it going to be the river? Often, in more cases than not, the river loses.

Set up for conflict

In “Killing the Colorado,” Lustgarten also explores cotton farming in Arizona, and how it is subsidized by the federal government, and how a huge coal-fired plant near Page burns coal to pump water through Arizona.

He also tells how the Colorado River has been shaped by the Colorado Compact of 1922, and how it overestimated the river’s annual flow, and thus the amount of water to be shared by seven states, including Colorado.

“The entire premise of the water supply for 40 million Americans amounts to wishful thinking,” Lustgarten said.

That point is also frequently made by filmmaker and photographer Peter McBride, who grew up in the Roaring Fork River Valley and since 2009 has been telling vivid stories about the challenges facing the Colorado River, and its dried-up delta.

“Part of the problem is that in 1922 they thought the river flowed at a higher rate than it does historically,” McBride said during an individual presentation at the Ideas Fest on Monday. “They called it a large soda, and we now realize it is a medium soda. But the compact agreement is based on a large soda. And all the straws are still in that, even though it is a medium. So we’ve totally bypassed the production of the river.”

During a following panel discussion on drought, McBride said the Colorado River consistently is last in line for its own water.

“Who is going to shoulder the deficit?” McBride asked. “Is it going to be ag? Are municipalities going to become more efficient? Or is it going to be the river? Often, in more cases than not, the river loses.

“Most people, from my experience, they like the thought of a river,” said McBride, who was just back from rowing the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. “But when push comes to shove, and when it comes down to having a pool or not, or a golf course or not, or a tap or not, they vote tap. They vote pool. So as we are struggling to figure out this water shortage, often times the river will continue to lose.”

Peter McBride at the oars and cameral Grand Canyon June 2015

Peter McBride at the oars and cameral Grand Canyon June 2015

Ag. v. city v. river

Lustgarten and other panelists at the Ideas Fest pointed out that the primary competing interests for Colorado River water are agriculture, cities and what’s left of the river’s ecosystem.

“The consensus that I hear is that inevitably the most give will come from agriculture, like it or not, because that’s where the most water is,” Lustgarten said. “And there is huge opportunity for very a small-percentage efficiency gain to translate to a volume of water that is very meaningful to a lot of the cities.”

Lustgarten also said that “cities will bring money, agriculture will eventually bring water. But the law is on agriculture’s side. And if there is anything that is political an untouchable, especially in the West, it is private property rights, and that’s how water is seen.”

Buzz Thompson, a professor of natural resources law at Stanford University, made a similar point about the West’s “first-in-time, first-in-right” system of water law during Monday’s panel on drought.

“There have been a variety of suggestions recently to try replace the prior appropriations system with a totally different system of water allocation,” Thompson said. “It would take at least a century or two, however, to get through the politics of actually doing that. And furthermore you have a problem with the United States Constitution and those state constitutions that protect private property.”

Both of the water panels at the Ideas Fest discussed the lack of transparency and accountability when it comes to the ownership and use of water in Western states.

“There are variety of states in the United States that still are not absolutely sure exactly how much water they have and who is using it,” Thompson said. “In California, we have this very complex water system, and the truth of the matter is we don’t actually know exactly how much water a variety of water rights owners are entitled to.”

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

Changing attitudes

Patricia Mulroy, who ran the Southern Nevada Water Authority from 1993 to 2014 and is now at the Brookings Institution, sat on Monday’s panel and said the last 20 years have brought about an evolution in water policy.

She said the big players in the broader Colorado River community are now working together to preserve the existing water supply system in the face of drought, climate change and a growing population.

Mulroy said the new consensus is, “Let us conserve both with ag and with urban before the system crashes. And let us use urban dollars to effectuate conservation measures both in the urban areas and in the agriculture areas.”

“Because here’s the reality,” Mulroy said, pointing to the current record-low levels of water in Lake Mead. “All those lovely paper water rights that we have spent millions paying our lawyers to protect become absolutely useless at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you are the holder of the most senior Colorado River water right given to you by the Supreme Court. Nature doesn’t really give a tinker’s damn.”

Peter McBride and Pat Mulroy at the Ideas Festival June 2015

Peter McBride and Pat Mulroy at the Ideas Festival June 2015

Saving water to grow?

But Thompson, the law professor from Stanford, warned that too often conservation gains are then used to provide water for new development.

“Frequently we are using that conversation to permit expanded growth,” Thompson said. “ And so then what happens is that the next time we have a drought, we’ve already used up that conservation, and it becomes even more difficult to withstand that particular drought.

“At some point,” Thompson said, “we have to realize there is a limited capacity for increased population in the Western United States, and recognize what John Wesley Powell did, which is that we have to link our land use planning with our water resources.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Post published this story online on July 4, 2015.


Native Americans hold 20 percent of the [#ColoradoRiver] basin’s water rights — Circle of Blue

July 5, 2015

northamericanindianregionallosses1850thru1890

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Mired in drought and torched by one of the hottest years ever measured, the seven states of the Colorado River Basin are acutely aware of how a desert can bully water supplies. They are not alone. In this cauldron of collaboration and competing interests is a collection of players who are just as significant for managing and responding to water scarcity but attract much less attention: the basin’s 29 federally recognized Indian tribes.

With the oldest claims to water, the tribes command a considerable role in directing the region’s future. Combined, they hold rights to a substantial portion of the Colorado River’s flow: roughly 20 percent, or 2.9 million acre-feet, which is more water than Arizona’s allocation from the river. The tribal share, moreover, will increase, perhaps by as much as hundreds of thousands of acre-feet as the 13 tribes without confirmed rights settle their claims with federal and state governments.

Years of careful negotiations, spurred by a desire to avoid long-running court battles, produced legal settlements that provide water for tribes, cities, and industries. Beneficial to all sides, the settlements were a catalyst for urban development and a tool for funding Indian water systems. Perhaps more importantly, the settlements are the foundation of a partnership, an inescapable union, between tribes and their neighbors, a union that will grow in importance as water becomes scarcer in the warming and drying American West.

“We’ve developed tremendous and valuable relationships with each other from being in the same room for years,” Kathryn Sorensen, director of the Phoenix water department, told Circle of Blue. “Water is always important and contentious in Arizona. But having relationships helps you have conversations when you want new solutions.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Dry Gulch Reservoir update: PAWSD green lights loan restructuring as the project drags on #ColoradoRiver

July 5, 2015

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass


From the Pagosa Sun (Casey Crow):

The board of directors for the San Juan Water Conservancy District (SJWCD) voted unanimously on June 29 to accept an agreement regarding the loan restructuring for the Dry Gulch water storage project with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), following a green light from the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) last week.

According to a letter drafted by Rod Proffitt, president of the SJWCD, the district has limited water storage capacity to meet future water needs. The demands placed on the district for wildfire protection, drought and habitat are great and unsustainable. A situation worsened by state officials who used water from a tributary of the San Juan to offset the over-appropriation of the Rio Grande.

The water needs of the community led the district to partner with PAWSD, with the goal of building a water storage facility.

The Dry Gulch water storage project was halted due to the recession and changes occurring within PAWSD leadership, which then changed the direction of the project altogether.

More Dry Gulch Reservoir coverage here and here.


“On a stream, one cubic foot a second can make a big difference” — Amy Beatie #ColoradoRiver

July 4, 2015

earlyseasonstremflowicebobberwyn
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

For 139 years, state enforcers have said farmers, cities and ranchers who don’t use all the water they are entitled to could have their rights curtailed. Critics have said that discourages conservation.

A first deal in the works, made possible by a 2013 law, lets a ranch owner near Granby leave water in Willow Creek, a tributary of the overtapped Colorado River, without facing penalties.

A second deal would leave more water in the Roaring Fork River, another Colorado River tributary, in Aspen.

Colorado Farm Bureau leaders said they’re watching to make sure water left in rivers by those who don’t exercise their senior rights stays available to next-in-priority irrigators.

“We’re definitely taking a wait-and-see approach,” CFB president Don Shawcroft said. “We had a certain understanding when the law was passed, but it’s certainly up to the interpretation of the court and lawyers.”

The Colorado law says not using water won’t diminish or cancel a water right if the owner is enrolled in a conservation program with local approval.

Colorado River District officials last week approved the Willow Creek deal. Water saved initially will be small, flows of a few cubic feet per second into stream channels.

But the emerging alternative to Use It Or Lose It — developed by the Colorado Water Trust — marks a milestone in modernizing the state’s first-come, first-serve system for allocating water.

“We can look at the local water rights and determine if leaving water in a particular section of a river would create environmental benefits,” said Amy Beatie, director of the trust, devoted to saving rivers.

“The benefits could be significant,” Beatie said. “On a stream, one cubic foot a second can make a big difference.”[…]

Given the water pressures in the West, Louisiana-based ranch owner Witt Caruthers this year decided to try the new approach at his head-gates along Willow Creek.

“Colorado’s water system created an incentive to use our water even in times when it’s not absolutely necessary. When you’re under that pressure to use it or lose it, you’re almost forced to abuse it. That’s to the detriment of all,” Caruthers said.

He and his partners turned to the Colorado Water Trust to take advantage of the new law. Without it, he said, “You’re caught between taking what you need and taking what you are entitled to.”

When drought nearly dried up the Roaring Fork River a few years ago in Aspen, city officials began thinking about how to ensure a minimal flow by leaving water they divert from their Wheeler Ditch to irrigate parks and feed fountains.

Yet their efforts to leave water in the river led to legal challenges by competing users, who claimed the city’s senior rights must be reduced if it stops diverting its full allotment, said Phil Overeynder, utilities engineer for special projects.

“Aspen is interested in doing this. Leaving a little water in that stream is what we are trying to accomplish,” Overeynder said.

Agricultural irrigators are wary of changing Colorado water law, said John McKenzie, director of the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance. Yet the system causes many to flood fields with more water than they need for fear that government will list their water as abandoned, McKenzie said.

“We want to protect ditch company water rights,” he said. “But if there’s a mechanism where a ditch company that doesn’t need the water could allow it to flow down a river, and there was no ‘abandonment’ of that water, it could help a ditch company. There are costs to diverting water.”

More SB13-019 coverage here.


Take a photo tour of Las Vegas’ new water tunnel #ColoradoRiver

July 3, 2015

lakemeadtunnelboringmachineviatunneltalk
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

The business end of the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s new intake pipe at Lake Mead is a reinforced concrete vault that pokes up from the bottom of the reservoir, the last stop in a dark tunnel 3 miles long.

You can’t feel the weight of the lake 40 feet above your head, but it’s impossible not to think about it. A curved disc of stainless steel, 16 feet across and an inch and a half thick, is all that separates you from more than 3 trillion gallons of water that covers the vault to a depth of more than 300 feet.

Not to worry, says Jim Nickerson, project manager for this $817 million construction job.

“There isn’t a crane in the world that could lift that cap,” he says.

The weight of all that water is exactly what’s keeping the lid on the authority’s new intake tunnel. But that’s not the only pressure being placed on the project.

When it goes on line in September, the so-called third straw becomes a lifeline for the Las Vegas Valley, which draws 90 percent of its water supply through two existing intakes that will eventually stop working should the lake continue to shrink.

On Monday morning, the water authority led a small group on the first — and likely the last — media tour down the entire 3-mile tunnel to the intake structure, which is basically a concrete box the size of a Starbucks with walls 7 feet thick.

Soon no one will be able to make this trip.

Nickerson said all the work underground should be finished and construction equipment cleared away by August. Then workers will shut off the pumps that keep groundwater at bay, allowing the tunnel to gradually fill over two or three weeks. Once the water pressure in the tunnel equals the pressure around it, a crane floating on the surface of lake will lift the 19,000-pound stainless steel cap, allowing water to flow freely into the intake.

The big chunk of steel will go into storage, just in case they ever need to drain and inspect the tunnel.

Activity at the site has been constant since 2008, when Las Vegas Tunnel Constructors began excavating a 600-foot vertical access shaft on a peninsula at the western edge of Lake Mead. Since then, the project has been hit by a series of setbacks — and the death of one worker — that added more than two years and almost $40 million to the cost.

The work reached a major milestone in December, when the massive tunneling machine specially built for the job completed its 3-mile journey by punching into the 1,200-ton intake structure, which was built on shore and floated out onto the lake. In 2012 the 100-foot-tall intake structure was sunk into a hole blasted in the lake bed and secured with 12,000 cubic yards of special concrete pumped into place from a flotilla of cement trucks on barges.

Nickerson said that when the tunneling machine finally chewed its way into the side of the intake structure two years later, it missed its intended target by just 2 millimeters on one side and 3 millimeters on the other.

“There was a jobwide hole-through party,” he said.

The 1,500 ton, $25 million digger is now long gone. It was removed from the tunnel piece by piece over the first three months of the year, with most of it already shipped back to the factory in Germany.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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