Snowpack news: Greeley and Pueblo plan to lease water to farmers this season #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 24, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 23, 2014 via the NRCS

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

With the water outlook now drastically better than it was in 2013, many Front Range cities in Colorado, which leased little or no water to ag users last year due to shortages, are now saying they will have extra water to lease out this year.

Harold Evans, chairman of the city of Greeley Water and Sewer Board, said board members officially decided at their recent meeting they would have extra water to lease to agriculture this year, although they would have to examine requests from farmers and take other things into consideration before deciding how much they would lease out.

Officials with the city of Loveland, too, said this week they will have extra water to lease to agriculture.

Snowpack on Tuesday in the South Platte River Basin — which supplies northeast Colorado — was 130 percent of historic average, according to NRCS figures, and reservoir levels in the basin are also above normal, sitting at 108 percent of historic average on April 1.

While the outlook has been good for months in northern Colorado, many city officials in the area were waiting to see how much water would be released this year from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region, before giving the official yay or nay on leasing to agriculture.

The Northern Water board set its spring quota for the C-BT Project on April 11, and even though the board set it at a below-average 60 percent, it was enough to give most cities the green light to lease to ag.

While the C-BT quota played a large part in determining how much water most northern Front Range cities can lease out this year, the situation is a little different for the city of Longmont. Ken Huson, water resources administrator for Longmont, said that because some of its water-delivery systems are still under repair from September’s flooding, the city likely won’t be renting any water out this year.

Evans noted that while Greeley has plenty of water to lease this year, cities typically get fewer requests in years of good snowpack like this year, because so much snowmelt makes its way down the mountains, filling irrigation ditches and reducing the farmers’ needs of supplemental water from cities.

But even with plenty of snowmelt expected to fill ditches this spring, farmers still like to have water available to lease from cities as a back-up supply, if nothing else. Local farmers say they never know how fast the snow is going to melt and flow by, or how dry it’s going to get later into the summer.

At the beginning of last year, the state was coming off the 2012 drought, during which reservoirs were drained to low levels, and snowpack in the mountains was also historically bad.

As early as January of 2013, a number of cities — like Greeley, Pueblo, Longmont, Fort Collins and Loveland, each of which typically lease thousands of acre-feet of excess water each year to producers across eastern Colorado — were telling local farmers they would have little or no water to lease to ag users.

Back in 2011, which was a historically wet year, the city of Greeley — located in the most ag-productive part of the state — leased 25,427 acre-feet of water (nearly 8.3 billion gallons) to ag users, but last year, could only honor its long-term ag agreements of about 5,000 acre-feet.

Water officials from cities around the state said last year marked the first time in about a decade, longer in some cases, that they’d had such little water to lease to agricultural users.

This year is different.

Even in the southeast part of the state, where cities have less water compared to their neighbors to the north, it’s looking like those municipalities will have enough extra for agriculture.

According to NRCS figures, snowpack in the Arkansas River Basin that supplies southeast Colorado was at about historic average Wednesday and reservoirs were only filled to 60 percent of average on April 1.

Still, Sharon Carleo, water resources coordinator with the Board of Water Works of Pueblo, said they could lease in the range of 6,000 acre feet of water this year to farmers.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

On his farm just outside of Mead, [Kent Peppler] relies both on irrigated water and spring runoff. While water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado-Big Thompson Project can be an integral part of keeping his crop alive, Peppler only gets that water through cities like Fort Collins, which regularly lease extra water to irrigators and Front Range farmers.

“We’re hoping to rent some Big Thompson water this year, absolutely,” he said on Tuesday.

But this year it’s unlikely that Peppler, who lives well outside the Poudre basin and is on the city’s lowest priority rung, will get water from Fort Collins. When the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District announced two weeks ago how much water customers will get from the reservoir system — 60 percent of their full allotment — city officials were concerned that amount would minimize the water leasing market. While “domestic” customers like homeowner associations will be able to lease water from the city, others like Peppler most likely will not.

Colorado-Big Thompson Project, or C-BT, rentals make up one of three water leasing markets the city runs. Fort Collins Utilities also leases water to the North Poudre Irrigation Co. and the Water Supply and Storage Co. in Fort Collins. C-BT leases have garnered the city the least money of the three since 2009. Last year, the city made $74,585 from the leases, down from $227,920 in 2009.

While not a huge moneymaker for a city with a nearly $500 million annual budget, C-BT leases can be cruicial for farmers like Peppler, who has leased water from Fort Collins sporadically over the past 30 years.

“We do depend on rented irrigation water,” he said. “We don’t have enough water rights to get us through.”

The city normally takes half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a network of basins and reservoirs that brings water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. While the bulk of the water serves the daily needs of city residents and businesses, some fills city irrigation ditches, is channeled to homeowners associations, or feeds city parks. Fort Collins leases any leftover water to farmers like Peppler, who put in requests every year for a certain number of acre feet.

Leasing water from Fort Collins Utilities has been tricky after burn-scar debris from the High Park Fire polluted the Poudre River, forcing the city to rely more on reservoir water. The city is also partially reliant on the C-BT water when spring runoff and late-summer monsoons reduce Poudre River water quality.

High snowpack years like this can be mixed a blessing to those hoping for more C-BT water, as a plentiful snowpack doesn’t translate into a higher quota of water.

“It’s just the opposite,” said Susan Smolnik, a water resources engineer for Fort Collins Utilities. “Colorado-Big Thompson is a supplemental system. In the higher snowpack year, we will not get as much CB-T water.”

To manage the water it does receive, Fort Collins Utilities keeps strict priorities, dividing lessees into tiers. The first tier, made up of HOAs, city ditches and parks, had all its water requests fulfilled this year, worth about 80 acre feet, said Smolnik. Poudre basin farmers in the second tier had only about 25 percent of their requests for water fulfilled, although customers have requested leases for all 10,480 acre feet potentially available to the tier.

Peppler is among those in the bottom tier of users living outside the basin, who have no prospects of getting water from the city yet. Thus far, that group has requested 4,664 acre feet of water from the city.

Despite this year’s plentiful snowpack, Utilities has been “conservative,” Smolnik said, when it came to meeting regional water needs, because it will mostly rely on C-BT water until it is satisfied with the quality of Poudre River water.

“We planned that we are not going to treat more Poudre water until we know more about fire effects,” she said.

Ultimately, if city demands for C-BT water is less than expected, Utilities will be able to release more acre feet of water to those who seek leases.

For now, Peppler, who is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, hopes that a good spring runoff season will help fill the ditches that irrigate his corn, wheat and barley. Like most farmers he has crop insurance, which could help if planting season doesn’t turn out to be as lucrative as expected. But falling back on insurance is hard to justify during a year with a deep snowpack, even if that doesn’t translate into more water for Peppler’s fields.


The Animas River Stakeholders Group, et. al., offer $45,000 prize in search for solutions to pollution

April 24, 2014
Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

Bonita Mine acid mine drainage

From The Durango Herald (Chase Olivarius-Mcallister):

Last week, the regular meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group took on the feeling of a jolly, if intellectually fraught, Nobel Prize committee debate.

Scientists, government employees and mining officials huddled around a long table in the cold basement of the Miners Union Hospital grading innovative, sometimes preposterous proposals for addressing metal removal from mine drainage.

The ideas came from InnoCentive, a Boston firm that has hundreds of thousands of individual problem-solvers eager to take on challenges in chemistry, food production, business, engineering, information technology and the life sciences.

As part of the competition, the stakeholders described the environmental calamity in the Upper Animas Basin and offered $45,000 to the top problem-solver. (They raised the prize money from 12 organizations, including the International Network for Acid Prevention, Freeport-McMorRan Copper and Gold, Sunnyside Gold Corp., National Mining Corp., Goldcorp, New Mexico Coal and Trout Unlimited.)

As water quality in the Animas River has deteriorated over the last seven years, there has been insufficient money to build and operate a limestone water-treatment plant, which would cost $12 million to $17 million to build and $1 million to operate annually. Stakeholders are hoping that one brilliant solution could at least bring down the sticker price of river cleanup. (In the absence of an answer, the town is re-evaluating whether it should seek Superfund status.)

InnoCentive’s problem-solvers submitted online more than 50 proposals, with some more far-fetched than others, involving everything from absorption through plants, salting out metals, magnets, artificial river settling, cement, yeast, eggshell lime, plasma, brown coal, algae and Voraxial filtration…

As the stakeholders moved through the ideas, poring over a spreadsheet that had different stakeholders’ assessments of the schemes, expert opinion diverged many times.

While Kirsten Brown of the Colorado Division of Mining and Safety and Steve Fearn, mining specialist and co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, liked one proposal that involved removing heavy metals with magnets, Peter Butler thought “scaling and clogging would be an issue.”

Butler, co-coordinator of the stakeholders’ group, was more supportive of another proposal, artificial river settling, writing, “Could be an effective alternative to settling ponds. Separates metals somewhat.”[...]

They hope to choose the winner by May. When the winning idea might be implemented is unknown.

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River via the USGS

Meanwhile there was a meeting Wednesday in Silverton to discuss potential Superfund designation to bring in federal dough and expertise. Here’s a prequel from Chase Olivarius-Mcallister writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has tried to designate parts of Silverton a Superfund site. Yet for years, many locals have considered the word “Superfund” dirtier than Cement Creek…

A series of abandoned mines in the Upper Animas Basin has been spewing toxic metals into the local water system for more than 20 years. Scientists say it’s the largest untreated mine drainage in the state, and problematic concentrations of zinc, copper, cadmium, iron, lead, manganese and aluminum are choking off the Upper Animas River’s ecosystem.

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt said Silverton’s environmental calamity is “huge, affecting so many jurisdictions and communities. But it has felt like we were sort of at a stalemate.”

Lachelt said San Juan County commissioners now are leading the issue, not ignoring it.

“The La Plata County commissioners stand by the San Juan County commissioners in seeking out all of this information and seeking a rapid solution to this long-lingering problem,” she said. “I don’t think there’s one single reason it’s taken so long, and we’re certainly not there yet. But I think we’re seeing a lot of folks come together and realize we really don’t want to lose any more species of fish. We can’t afford to, and we have to act.”

‘Objections worn thin’

Since last summer, political pressure to find a solution in Silverton has escalated.

Rob Robinson, who used to represent the Bureau of Land Management within the Animas River Stakeholders Group, sent a letter and petition with 15 signatures in December to the EPA and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment urging a Superfund listing in Silverton. Robinson said for years he had kept faith that the Animas River Stakeholders Group’s collaborative process would work.

“I was a member of (the stakeholders) for many years and believed strongly in what they were doing: community-based, watershed-based cleanup. I guess it’s not gone so well,” he said. “In fact, it’s really disastrous when you compare the situation with what’s happened at other Superfund sites.”

Steve Gunderson, director of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, said he was “appalled” by what he saw when he toured the Red and Bonita Mine in 2012.

“This site, even though it’s complicated and remote, is in an incredibly beautiful part of the state. It may take a Superfund designation to bring the resources to bear,” he said.

But Gunderson said he doubts the EPA will “move forward with a Superfund designation unless there’s support with the local government because Superfund can be fairly controversial, and the first reaction is often angst about what the economic ramifications might be.”

Many Silverton residents interviewed by The Durango Herald last summer feared a Superfund designation would stymie tourism and soil the prospect of mining’s return.

“Superfund isn’t the answer,” said Steve Fearn, a co-coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders Group and a town resident. “I want to see Silverton become a successful, vibrant community again. Right now, it isn’t, and mining is the one thing we have.”

But Robinson said such objections had worn thin.

“God, they’re the same positions they took 25 years ago! I think ‘Gee-whiz, it’s like a broken record, going on and on,’” Robinson said. “People like Steve Fearn argue a Superfund site will discourage mining investment. But the pollution is discouraging people from mining.

“What Steve Fearn says is immaterial. What’s important is that the Clean Water Act promises to clean up the nation’s water, making it all swimmable, fishable. That’s the goal, and the people administering … Superfund aren’t doing their job,” he said. “That’s the problem.”[...]

In the absence of a Superfund designation, for years, the stakeholders group has tried to work collaboratively with the EPA and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to improve water quality in the Animas River.

However, water quality recently has gotten much worse in the river.

Between 2005 and 2010, three out of four of the fish species that lived in the Upper Animas beneath Silverton died. According to studies by the U.S. Geological Survey, the volume of insects and the number of bug species have plummeted. And since 2006, USGS scientists have found that the water flowing under Bakers Bridge – then downstream, into Durango – carries concentrations of zinc that are toxic to animal life.

The technology to clean the dirty water exists: a limestone water treatment plant. But the stakeholders group has no money to pay for it, and the EPA estimates it would cost between $12 million and $17 million to build and $1 million a year to run – in perpetuity.

Sunnyside Gold Corp., the last mining company to operate in Silverton, denies all liability for cleaning up the worsened metal pollution. It has offered $6.5 million in return for being released from all liability. Kinross Gold Corp., an international mining conglomerate, bought Sunnyside in 2003. The company generated nearly $1 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its fourth-quarter report…

On Monday, within hours of commissioners announcing that most of their Wednesday meeting would be dedicated to discussing Superfund with the EPA, Larry Perino, Sunnyside’s representative in the stakeholders group, sent co-coordinators Fearn, Bill Simon and Peter Butler a letter proposing the company’s “game plan” for cleaning up the Animas River.

The plan centers on all parties continuing to work through the stakeholders group, bulkheading the Red and Bonita Mine and using the money Sunnyside already has promised – with compound interest. The plan does not include pursuing Superfund listing…

More Animas River watershed coverage here and here.


Arkansas River Basin Water Forum: “What happens when you overdevelop?” — Jim Pokrandt #COWaterPlan

April 24, 2014
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Chris Woodka was front and center at the Arkansas Basin Water Forum. Below are 3 articles recapping the first day of the event.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A team of paragliders won’t cut it out of a glacier with a chainsaw. A ski patrol can’t bring it down from the top of a snowy mountain. Deep-sea divers won’t blow up an iceberg to get at it. In other words, no Silver Bullet for the state water plan. But it will provide options, said James Eklund, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“If you want to do planning, you have to do it before the crisis hits,” Eklund told the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College on Wednesday. “We’re not going to luck into what we want for our kids. We have to be intentional.”

The state water plan occupied all of the attention at the first day of the forum, along with the Arkansas Basin Roundtable’s basin implementation plan. The forum continues today with the focus on preserving irrigation for farms. The basin plan will be part of a draft state water plan that will be submitted to the governor in December.

“I can’t tell you what will be in the plan,” Eklund said. “It has to come from the grassroots up.”

The basin roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee and the CWCB have been talking about the core issues of a water plan — alternatives to ag dry-up, urban conservation, new supply, storage and environmental needs — for 10 years. New meetings are pushing to include more people in the statewide conversation, with about a dozen more planned in the next three months.

Eklund stressed the need to preserve watershed health to prepare for drought, floods and fires that have plagued the state for the past two years. While there will be measurable outcomes, the state water plan likely will not contain blanket solutions for filling the needs of cities on the Front Range as more people move into the state, he added.

“There may be tough decisions in the future,” Eklund said, speaking about some climate models that show reduced snowpack in coming years. “If climate change occurs, at that point dramatic steps will be taken. We have to be comfortable as a state.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The Arkansas River basin is no stranger to the troubles of overdevelopment of water resources. But its neighbors also have complaints as they develop their part of the state water plan. Experts from four other basins shared some of those Wednesday at the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum at Otero Junior College.

September’s record floods were a mixed blessing for the South Platte basin, said Sean Cronin, executive director of the St. Vrain and Left Hand Water Conservancy District.

“While some reservoirs filled, it wiped out the infrastructure to deliver water to ditches,” Cronin said.

The Rio Grande basin has been in drought since 2002, and will provide little help in meeting the state’s water gap because it’s struggling to fill its own needs, said Mike Gibson, general manager of the San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.

“We’re an ag-based economy, and we have a gap already,” Gibson said.

He jokingly suggested moving Interstate 70 — the dividing line for the state’s wet and dry weather — 300 miles south to solve state water problems.

The Gunnison River basin is softening its hard line against taking water out of its basin, but would demand tough conservation measures and no Colorado River Compact complications before agreeing to any further diversions out of the basin, said John McClow, attorney for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District. It’s still not a popular idea.

“We’re an untapped basin and intend to keep it that way,” McClow said. “And, we’re paranoid.”

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

The Colorado River basin is also resistant to more transmountain diversions, said Jim Pokrandt, an education and communication specialist for the Colorado River District. The Front Range already takes 450,000-600,000 acre-feet from the Colorado River each year, so there is no excess water. Pokrandt applauded cooperative agreements with the Denver Water Board and proposals by the Northern Water Conservancy District as examples of moving ahead collaboratively. The Colorado River basin is cautious because of the types of problems the Arkansas River and Republican River basins already have faced.

“What happens when you overdevelop?” Pokrandt asked. “The Colorado River Basin Roundtable does not want that kind of future.”

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

An aquatic biologist who worked to establish a high-quality fishery on the Upper Arkansas River was honored Wednesday. Greg Policky, who works for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, received the Bob Appel Friend of the Arkansas River award at the 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum. The award is named for the late Bob Appel, who was a farmer and conservationist who helped found the forum 20 years ago. Policky has been the state’s primary biologist for the Upper Arkansas River for more than 20 years and has worked to improved the brown trout fishery.

“His attention to detail and collection of objective fishery data has provided numerous benefits to the river’s fishery,” said Jean Van Pelt, in introducing him at the forum.

In addition to programs and studies, his ability to provide public education about fisheries was cited.

“His goal is to increase the public understanding of aquatic ecology and fishery management,” she said. “He has actively targeted angling organizations and land resource agencies, but he finds his most rewarding beneficiaries in school-age children.”

Policky was humble in accepting the award, thanking members of the Arkansas River basin forum for working together on the voluntary flow program, which modulates reservoir releases for the benefit of fish.

Past winners of the Appel award are Mike Conlin, Denzel Goodwin, Paul Flack, Reed Dils, Carl Genova, Allen Ringle, Bud O’Hara, Alan Hamel and Steve Witte.

More Forum coverage from Bette McFarren writing for the La Junta Tribune-Democrat:

The 20th Arkansas River Basin Water Forum “Planning and Planting for the Future” got under way on Tuesday evening at Otero Junior College. Welcoming the group was La Junta Utility Board Chairman Lorenz Sutherland.

The first session was “Landscaping for Drought Tour of Otero Junior College Campus,” an informative session on selecting drought tolerant plants, xeriscape principles and growing drought tolerant trees, conducted by Genia Short of Otero Junior College, Liz Catt of Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Shelly Simmons of the Colorado State Forest Service. The group urged use of drip irrigation and showed the simple and inexpensive tubing needed to accomplish the job. Also stressed were weed barrier material which is water permeable, gravel for mulch and edging to keep out encroaching grass. Also, look at your neighbors’ yards for good drought-tolerant plants. Anything with a bulb or tuber, such as irises and tulips, are drought-tolerant. Also, the old-fashioned bushes like spirea and rose of Sharon are good. Many other design suggestions and tree selection pointers made the session extremely worthwhile.

In the next session, Kevin Rein of the State Engineer’s Office explained the complications of the Colorado water rights system. It sounds simple, first in, first rights, but industrial, agricultural and municipal needs have complicated matters. Many states, in fact more than half of the United States, depend on water originating in Colorado, known as the Headwater State. “It falls as snow on our mountains,” said Rein, “melts, and runs off out of state. We try to catch a little of it as it goes by.”

La Junta’s Director of Water and Wastewater Joe Kelley led off the session on the Arkansas Valley Conduit, supported by Erin Mink, of Senator Mark Udall’s office. She recalled 20 years ago when she was warned about our drinking water while she was working at Bent’s Old Fort. Also making comments about the conduit were Doris Morgan of Congressman Cory Gardner’s office and Brian McCain, of Congressman Scott Tipton’s office. They emphasized that all of Colorado’s congressional representatives are supporting the Arkansas Valley Conduit.

On Wednesday morning, the really big crowd arrived, filling the adjacent parking lots around the Otero Junior College Student Center. Host Chairman Lorenz Sutherland, Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin, and La Junta City Manager Rick Klein welcomed the group. The local color guard presented the colors. The keynote speaker was James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, who spoke on “Colorado’s Water Plan.”

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here.


Grand County Commissioners announce benefits from pact with Denver Water — Sky-Hi Daily News #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Here’s the release from the Grand County Commissioners via the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Grand County Board of County Commissioners has announced a major economic win for the county. The Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, which went into effect Sept. 26, 2013, is already paying off – literally – in the county. The agreement between Denver Water and Grand County, as well as other West Slope governments, water providers and ski areas, was reached after years of negotiations.

Earlier this year, Denver Water began to meet dozens of obligations outlined in the agreement. In January, Denver Water made a payment of $1.95 million to Grand County for two water supply projects:

• The Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline, which Winter Park Water and Sanitation District is already designing, will help protect water quality at its water treatment plant in low-flow periods, and provide system flexibility. In addition, the project will be constructed following a competitive bid process, which will be an economic boost for the county. Because Denver Water is funding the Jim Creek Bypass and Pipeline project, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District will not need to raise service fees to pay for it.

• The Fraser River Pump Station, Pipeline and Discovery Park Pond project, which pays for much-needed improvements that will help stabilize the business of Winter Park Resort and other businesses in the upper Fraser Valley. The project will enhance Winter Park ski area’s snowmaking capability, allowing the resort to open more ski areas earlier in the season, which will drive early-season income to local businesses, as well as provide additional jobs for local residents. In addition, water previously provided by Denver Water only in the winter to the ski area, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, Grand County Water and Sanitation District, and the Towns of Fraser and Granby, will now be available on a year-round basis. The pond also will provide a source of water for wildfire suppression.

“More than five years of negotiations with Denver Water have paid off,” said Grand County Commissioner James Newberry. “It was important to us to make sure Grand County’s future was secure, and we believe the economic value we’re receiving from the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement achieves that.”

The agreement ushers in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope entities to create a spirit of cooperation instead of litigation over water resources.

“The relationship forged through this agreement was bearing fruit for Grand County even before the agreement was officially in place,” said Newberry.

Commissioner Newberry pointed to the recent drought as an example of this cooperation. “In 2012, Denver Water implemented a critical component of the agreement in Grand County to provide more water for county streams than would have been available without the agreement. Instead of the historic practice of significantly reducing the bypass flows at its diversion points during droughts, Denver Water gave approximately 1,500 acre-feet of water back to the Fraser River when they legally could have diverted it to Denver.”

Another project, which created a settling pond on the east side of U.S. Highway 40 near the entrance of the Mary Jane ski area, was also completed and has been operated by Denver Water since before the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement was official. The pond improves water quality in Fraser Basin by trapping sand applied to Berthoud Pass by CDOT before it is carried down the river. The project was completed in 2011, and 680 tons of sediment was removed in 2013.

“The removal of sediment not only improves water quality, which assists the wastewater plants, but over time it will help restore the trout fishing habitat that President Eisenhower travelled to the Fraser River to enjoy,” said Newberry. “It’s these types of collaborative projects that will serve Grand County well into the future.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Aspinall Unit Operation Coordination Meeting, April 24 #ColoradoRiver

April 23, 2014

Apr 2014 Agenda


The April newsletter from Protect the Flows is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2014

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado


Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

In late March an agreement between the US and Mexico to release water to the parched delta region was realized with water from the Morales Dam released in a “pulse flow”. This release provided water to the region that has been dried up and experienced desertification over years of a lack of Colorado River water reaching the sea. The event received a great deal of media attention including amazing coverage by National Geographic. This was a perfect example of a variety of interests working together to achieve a solution that benefits the environment, the economy and the interests of 2 nations.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Snowpack/runoff news: “At this point we [Denver Water] do expect that our reservoirs will fill” — Stacy Chesney #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

April 22, 2014
Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

Statewide snow water equivalent as a percent of normal April 21, 2014 via the NRCS

From CBSDenver4.com:

The mountain snow is melting and it looks like Colorado’s white winter in the high country will bring good news for residents along the Front Range. Denver Water thinks Dillon Reservoir will fill to capacity for the first time in years.

It was the end of March last year when Denver Water put in Stage 1 water restrictions as Lake Dillon was only 65 percent full. As on Monday it’s at about 85 percent full and it’s actually being drained to get ready for more melting snow, which will mean even more water.

“It’s always a balancing act with our reservoirs across the state — Dillon in particular. We want to ultimately keep it full so people can enjoy recreation on the reservoir, but we have to be really conscious too as to what happens below the reservoir,” Stacy Chesney with Denver Water said.

With the snowpack well above average surrounding the largest reservoir that sends water to Denver, officials have been planning all winter to let some go.

“We’ve been proactively releasing water into the river below to create that room to help reduce any risk of flooding that could happen later in the season,” Chesney said.

But officials from Denver Water are keeping an eye on the snowpack with the hope of having full reservoirs for the first time since July of 2011.

“At this point we do expect that our reservoirs will fill and we hope that customers will continue that wise water use and not overuse water and follow our watering rules which will start on May 1,” Chesney said.

What many people in the high country are going to be watching is a layer of dust on the Western Slope that has sat on the snow for nearly a month. That, along with rain and warm temperatures over the last week, helped rush the melt over the past few days.

From Steamboat Today (Scott Franz):

This week, the persistent snow in the mountains just outside Steamboat Springs is reminiscent of the impressive snowpack of 2011, when the Yampa River overran Bald Eagle Lake and caused the youth minister at the Steamboat Christian Center and his family to evacuate their parsonage.

Is spring 2014 another 2011 in the making? It’s unlikely, according to a hydrologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who keeps close tabs on the Yampa River Basin.

Ashley Nielson confirmed that the total volume of water that flowed down the Yampa in 2011 beginning on April 1 and continuing through July 31 was the highest on record. And this year’s snowpack doesn’t measure up.

“We do see a 10 percent chance the peak flow on the Yampa will go over flood stage, but it’s totally dependent on what kind of spring we have and how that snow comes off,” Nielson said Monday. “There’s a lot less snow than what we had in 2011.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is currently 134 inches deep, which is down from 149 inches April 14, and the snow water equivalent is 112 percent of median. That compares to a record 180 inches of snow depth that stood at 130 percent of average in 2011. At the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass on Monday, the snow water equivalent was 150 percent of median compared to 157 percent April 23, 2011…

Still, the hydrograph for this week closely mirrors 2011, Nielson agreed, when low elevation runoff peaked on April 23. Nielson’s office is forecasting that the Yampa will shoot up Wednesday at about 1,900 cfs, then slip back to the range of 1,000 to 1,200 cfs through the end of the month when a cold front is expected to apply the brakes. It’s very typical, she said, for the Yampa to rise steeply in late April as snow melts suddenly from the valley floor and lower slopes.


Has Durango sold its river, and its soul, to recreation? — High Country News

April 22, 2014
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From the High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

The City is building a park. On the river. With a boat ramp…

As upsetting to opponents as the development itself is what it will bring: More of the inner-tubing, paddle-boarding, river-rafting, beach-partying masses that have already colonized large swaths of the river during the warmer months of the year. But it’s also what the development represents. In its quest to be an amenity-rich, recreation-based town rather than the extraction based one it once was, critics say, Durango has finally gone too far.

The problem park — its name is Oxbow Preserve — consists of 44 acres of land just north of this town of 15,000 people. The City acquired the land from private owners back in 2012 with the help of $400,000 in statewide lottery funds that are doled out for such things. Generally speaking, the land acquisition itself wasn’t controversial: It would preserve a nice stretch of the river as open space with public access, benefit wildlife and allow the City to stretch the riverside bike path further afield.

After acquiring the land, the City announced that it would keep its hands off 38 acres, leaving it as open space and wildlife habitat. No worries there. Yet the remaining six acres would be developed as a park, with not only the bike path going through, but also a driveway, parking lot, restrooms and a boat ramp, accessible to commercial outfitters. This development — the ramp in particular — is what’s fueling the fight.

The Animas River has always been critical to this southwest Colorado town. Its cold waters come crashing violently out of the narrow, v-shaped gorge that slices through the San Juan Mountains. When it hits the flat-as-glass bottom of the glacially-carved Animas Valley, it slows suddenly, and its path becomes a lazy meander, almost twisting around and meeting itself at times. The sandy banks here are so soft that ranchers used to line them with crushed, old cars to prevent erosion…

Commercial river rafting got going here in the early 1980s, and has since grown into a decent-sized chunk of the local tourism trade. Back in 1990, commercial outfitters ferried some 10,000 folks down the town run. By 2005, the peak year so far, that had jumped to 52,000. In 2012 — a low water year — 38,000 paid to raft the river, making a $12 million economic impact on the community, according to a Colorado Rivers Outfitters Association Report…

At least as many people float the river without guides, including private rafters, kayakers, paddle boarders and inner-tubers. Drought actually draws more of these users, since the river is safer at low levels.

Around the river access points, cars crowd the streets on summer days and inner-tube- and Pabst Blue Ribbon-hefting, scantily-clad youngsters wander around lackadaisically among the exhaust-belching rafting company buses, crammed to the gills with tourists getting the safety talk while wearing oversized, bright-orange life jackets. Downriver, a nice slow-moving section morphs into a party zone, replete with blaring sound systems.

A large chunk of opposition to the Oxbow park plans — particularly the commercial boat ramp and developed parking lot — comes from nearby property owners, worried that the in-town riverside zoo will simply migrate upstream to their backyards. But the resistance is not all rooted in NIMBYism. Also of concern are the impacts the floating and beach-going masses will have on wildlife — the park is near a pair of great blue heron rookeries, elk habitat and bald eagle fishing areas. Still others see the inclusion of a commercial boat ramp as a subsidy for private enterprise, and as a violation of the terms of the state funds that paid for the parcel of land. The developed park has its supporters, too: Commercial river rafters would be able to stretch out their town run, as well as the rafting season (the sandy upper reaches of the river are navigable even in very low water). And they contribute to the economy — many of my friends paid their way through college and beyond as river guides.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


Combined impacts of current and future dust deposition and regional warming on #ColoradoRiver Basin snow dynamics and hydrology

April 21, 2014
Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Dust streaming across Four Corners April 29, 2009 via MODIS

Click here to read the abstract (J. S. Deems, T. H. Painter, J. J. Barsugli, J. Belnap, and B. Udall):

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people in seven western states and two countries and to 5.5 million irrigated acres. The river has long been overallocated. Climate models project runoff losses of 5–20% from the basin by mid-21st century due to human-induced climate change. Recent work has shown that decreased snow albedo from anthropogenic dust loading to the CO mountains shortens the duration of snow cover by several weeks relative to conditions prior to western expansion of the US in the mid-1800s, and advances peak runoff at Lees Ferry, Arizona, by an average of 3 weeks. Increases in evapotranspiration from earlier exposure of soils and germination of plants have been estimated to decrease annual runoff by more than 1.0 billion cubic meters, or ~5% of the annual average. This prior work was based on observed dust loadings during 2005–2008; however, 2009 and 2010 saw unprecedented levels of dust loading on snowpacks in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB), being on the order of 5 times the 2005–2008 loading. Building on our prior work, we developed a new snow albedo decay parameterization based on observations in 2009/10 to mimic the radiative forcing of extreme dust deposition. We convolve low, moderate, and extreme dust/snow albedos with both historic climate forcing and two future climate scenarios via a delta method perturbation of historic records. Compared to moderate dust, extreme dust absorbs 2× to 4× the solar radiation, and shifts peak snowmelt an additional 3 weeks earlier to a total of 6 weeks earlier than pre-disturbance. The extreme dust scenario reduces annual flow volume an additional 1% (6% compared to pre-disturbance), a smaller difference than from low to moderate dust scenarios due to melt season shifting into a season of lower evaporative demand. The sensitivity of flow timing to dust radiative forcing of snow albedo is maintained under future climate scenarios, but the sensitivity of flow volume reductions decreases with increased climate forcing. These results have implications for water management and suggest that dust abatement efforts could be an important component of any climate adaptation strategies in the UCRB.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling $7 million cost to develop #ColoradoRiver diversion near De Beque

April 21, 2014

Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Ranchers and De Beque residents will gain irrigation water and the energy industry will have access to water for drilling under a project that will pump water out of the bottom of the Colorado River. Energy companies will pay most of the cost of the project that will use an existing intake at the bottom of the river to draw water out and pipe it into existing ditches and a small impoundment that energy companies can draw on for their drilling activities.

“It’s definitely an asset to the community,” said De Beque-
area rancher Tom Latham. “The town will benefit, irrigation and agricultural people will benefit and the oil and gas business will benefit.”

Latham and rancher Dale Albertson represent the Bluestone Water Conservancy District along with members of the board of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in pushing the project, for which work could begin this year.

Called the Kobe Project, the water it draws from the Colorado will be devoted mostly — 75 percent — to agricultural use and 25 percent for industrial use.

Black Hills Exploration & Production is bankrolling almost all the estimated $7 million development cost, some of which it will recoup through lower water costs and from other energy companies that use water from the project, officials said.

The Kobe project will draw 25 cubic feet per second from the Colorado, with 5 cfs set aside for industry and the rest for De Beque and agriculture, said Ray Tenney, an engineer with the River District.

The water won’t necessarily expand agriculture in the area, but it will be a welcome layer of security against continued drought, Latham said.

“The last two years, if it had been in place, it would have been a benefit,” Latham said.

Water availability also will make it easier to develop natural gas in areas that otherwise might have been impossible because of the difficulty of trucking it in, said Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who until recently served as the county’s representative on the project.

“This really is a great local project converting local conditional rights to absolute rights for diverse purposes,” Acquafresca said.

The project also illustrates the need for water to remain in the Colorado as opposed to being diverted east to the Front Range.

“If we want to be more than a donor basin, we need to have a robust economy,” Acquafresca said.

“Kobe is a good example of what we need to be doing here with our water resources.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Northern Water’s 2013 Annual Report is hot off the presses

April 21, 2014
Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Map of the Northern Integrated Supply Project via Northern Water

Click here to read the report. Here’s an excerpt:

In April when the Board considered the quota, forecasts indicated below average runoff. Because the C-BT Project delivered more than 300,000 acre feet in 2012, storage reserves were significantly below normal in early 2013, and inadequate to provide the higher quota many would have preferred.

As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided

As this roller coaster year progressed, mountain snowpack and resulting runoff increased. The Board felt it prudent to not increase the declared 60 percent quota, hoping to build C-BT reserves and be better positioned for future years.

The September record-breaking rains and devastating floods will be forever remembered. Our hearts go out to all who were impacted. In addition to the personal and public property devastation, water supply infrastructure suffered severe damage. In many areas streamflows exceeded maximum levels recorded since the advent of South Platte Basin irrigation in 1859.

Rebuilding has been the region’s focus since the floods. Some efforts have succeeded, some will require more time. The Colorado Water Conservation Board stepped up and provided $2.55 million in grants to help those in need. Northern Water was honored to act as CWCB’s agent, administering over 100 grants in accordance with CWCB criteria and direction.

Northern Water suffered relatively light flood damage compared to many. We are blessed with a very dedicated and talented workforce that aggressively took on the challenge of flood recovery. As a result, Northern Water completed flood repairs by early January.

Reclamation repaired additional C-BT Project facilities damaged by the floods. The exception is the Dille Tunnel Diversion on the Big Thompson River, which will likely not be fully operational until the beginning of the 2015 irrigation season.

In 2013 Northern Water successfully finished refurbishing the original Carter Lake outlet. This past year also marked the culmination of a 13-year effort to meet the annual water delivery requirements of the Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Program. Through a unique solution that does not diminish C-BT Project yield, water was released from Lake Granby for beneficial uses in the Grand Valley while also meeting endangered species needs. This effort, implemented by Northern Water, was funded by East Slope entities that divert water from the Colorado River.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


The latest Water Center at CMU newsletter is hot off the presses

April 20, 2014
Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

Snowpack Upper Colorado River Basin via snowpack.Water-data.com

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The latest SNOTEL reports indicate that the snowpack has peaked and begun to run off in the Colorado River headwaters. The Yampa, Upper Green, and Upper Colorado snowpacks all peaked well above average, while the Duchesne and San Juan Basins peaked below average, and the Gunnison Basin overall peaked at about average (wetter to the north, drier to the south). The related drought outlook shows Colorado mostly in the clear, but persistence or intensifying drought tendency to the South and West.


Durango’s new whitewater park opened Friday for the season

April 20, 2014
Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

Design for the whitewater park at Smelter Rapids via the City of Durango

From The Durango Herald:

Boaters and kayakers take their first runs through Durango’s new Whitewater Park on Friday. The $1 million project created a number of in-river features next to Santa Rita Park. The contractor is continuing to do work along the shoreline, which is not accessible adjacent to the wastewater-treatment plant.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.


“Front Range wants dibs on the” #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COWaterPlan

April 20, 2014
Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A coalition of Front Range water utilities is calling in a letter for assurance that a new transmountain diversion project will be a part of a state plan aimed at filling the anticipated future gap between demand and supply.

That desire by the Front Range Water Council is unsettling others who question whether the Western Slope has any more water left to give.

[...]

The letter to the Colorado Water Conservation Board was written by James Lochhead, chief executive officer and manager of Denver Water. Other utilities also on the council are Aurora Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.

It says that the planning process “should begin with an assurance, and not simply a hope,” that a new project involving Colorado River water will be a fundamental part of the package for meeting the state’s future water needs.

Roundtable groups around Colorado, including in the Colorado River Basin, are preparing proposals that the conservation board will consider in trying to come up with a statewide plan.

The Front Range Water Council’s concerns center on meeting notes from a March 17 conference call involving chairmen of the roundtable groups. The notes include a reference to a goal of giving water providers “an indication that there is hope for new supply” if the providers do their part. They went on to refer to various conservation and other milestones that would have to be met prior to an agreement for new supply being reached.

Jim Pokrandt of the Colorado River Water Conservation District is chairman of the Colorado River Basin roundtable and sits on the Interbasin Compact Committee. He described the conference call conversation as a “schematic on how to talk about diversion, illustrating how the discussion might go” in the state planning process.

“It was purely contemplative but it had stuff in there that could be taken out of context and that’s what the Front Range Water Council got excited about … but they’re reacting to something that doesn’t exist,” he said.

That said, Pokrandt questioned how the utilities can expect a new diversion to be a sure thing.

“They’re looking for more than hope and I don’t know how there can be hope when you don’t know if there’s enough water, you don’t know if all the other conditions can be answered, if the public will go for it and finance it, if you can get permits,” he said.

Western Slope water officials long have worried that a statewide plan would simply be a means of paving the way for further diversions of water to the Front Range.

However, the Interbasin Compact Committee now envisions that the plan won’t identify a specific diversion project, but will lay out conditions under which one could be pursued.

In an interview, Lochhead said no one can currently say what a new diversion project would look like, where it would be located, or how much water will be involved.

“But we need to all agree that that is an option that needs to be secured and preserved and not just kind of put out in the future for some future discussion,” he said.

Pokrandt said he thinks the Colorado River Roundtable’s position will be that it doesn’t think any more water is available to support more Front Range diversions.

He said the group is willing to study the idea, but there’s no guarantee enough water exists for a diversion and the outcome can’t be preordained to meet the Front Range utilities’ desire for an assured project.

“I don’t know how you get more than hope with all the questions out there,” he said.

For years, the focus in terms of filling Colorado’s water gap has involved what officials call a four-legged stool involving conservation/reuse, completion of projects already in the planning process, transfers of agricultural water, and new diversions.

“That’s been the most difficult thing to talk about,” Pokrandt said of the diversion concept.

Said Lochhead, “The option of the development of that leg needs to be preserved.”

He said he thinks it’s premature for the Western Slope to say there’s no water available. New supply needs to be part of the strategy and there needs to be a discussion of how and when it should occur, and what the Western Slope benefits can be, he said.

Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca has been keeping an eye on what the Colorado River roundtable group has been preparing and thinks it is doing a good job of articulating the region’s best water interests.

That includes the possible conclusion about the lack of more water for diversions in part because of Colorado’s water obligations to downstream states under an interstate compact.

“I think the Colorado River roundtable really makes a good case,” he said.

He expects the water conservation board to receive conflicting plans from western and eastern roundtables.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how the CWCB manages these diverging views as they integrate them together into some statewide water plan,” he said.

Lochhead noted that the letter he signed is from a group of utilities, and when it comes to Denver Water alone, it has a new agreement with Western Slope entities that would require their buy-in for any future diversions by that utility. He said it remains committed to that agreement.

But speaking for Front Range utilities more generally, “If the (Western Slope) position is there’s no water to be developed, what that says is there’s no room for discussion. We need to move beyond platitudes and politics and parochialism and move toward actual discussion,” he said.

At the same time, Lochhead conceded the potential for discussions to start to fall apart when parties start engaging in letter-writing.

“I’ll plead guilty to that here,” he said.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“…the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts” — Allen Best #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014
Denver Water's collection system via the USACE EIS

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS

Another independent journalist covering water issues is Allen Best purveyor of The Mountain Town News. Here’s an analysis of the recent agreement between Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and Grand County for operating the Colorado River Cooperative agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

Located at the headwaters of the Colorado River, the waterways of Grand County have become the poster child for aquatic death by a thousand cuts…

Called the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan, the agreement between Denver Water, Grand County, and Trout Unlimited proposes to govern Denver’s incremental diversions through the Continental Divide known as the Moffat firming project. However, according to the architects of the deal, it should also serve as a model in the ongoing dialogue as Colorado’s growing metropolitan areas look to squeeze out the final drops of the state’s entitlements to the Colorado River, as defined by the Colorado River compact of 1922 and other compacts.

“It is a demonstration of a new way of doing business that should be a model as Colorado talks about meeting its water gaps (between demands and supplies),” says Jim Lochhead, chief executive of Denver Water.

“Instead of platitudes or politics or parochialism, you need to do it by sitting down and working together and dealing with the issues,” he adds…

There are skeptics, unable to explain this strange alchemy in which a river can in any way benefit from having less water, as the agreement insists can be the case.

Among those withholding enthusiasm is Matt Rice, the Colorado coordinator for American Rivers. He points out that the agreement covers just 4 of the 32 creeks and streams trapped by Denver Water in the Fraser Valley and the adjoining Williams Fork. Too, like too many other similar programs, the data collection begins after permits are awarded, not before, which he thinks is backward.

In short, while Denver is careful to talk about “enhancements,” he thinks it falls short of addressing full, cumulative impacts.

Cumulative impacts are likely to be a focal point of federal permitting. While the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to have a voice, the vital 404 permit must come from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The parties to the new agreement have asked that their agreement be incorporated into the permit…

A far greater financial cost to Denver specified by the agreement is the agency’s commitment to forfeit up to 2,500 acre-feet annually of the city’s added 18,700 acre-foot take.

Based on the firm yield of the water and Denver’s rate for outside-city raw water to customers, this commitment is valued at $55 million.

Denver will make this water available for release into the creeks and rivers, to keep water temperatures colder and hence more hospitable to insects and fish. The water can also be used for flushing, to mimic what happens naturally during spring runoff, scouring river bottoms, to clear out the silt that clogs the spaces between rocks where mayflies and other insects live – and upon which fish feed…

A final environmental impact statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected in late April. The federal agency can also impose conditions of its own making. They would be included in a record-of-decision, which is expected to be issued in late 2015.

A permit from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment is also needed. Boulder County insists it also has say-so over enlargement of Gross Reservoir, an assertion contested by Denver Water.

In addition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must award a permit for revised hydroelectric generation at Gross.

At earliest, expansion of Gross could start in 2018 and be ready to capture spring runoff in 2022…

The agreement represents a new wave of thinking about impacts of water diversions. The older way of thinking was demonstrated in the Colorado Big-Thompson project. Financed by the federal government, it gave the Western Slope a one-time package, Green Mountain Reservoir, between Kremmling and Silverthorne, to serve Western Slope needs, particularly the farmers near Grand Junction who need water for late-summer fruits and produce. The agreement did not cover a more recent problem seemingly caused by the diversion, algae that obscure the clarity of Grand Lake.

The most recent of of the new agreements since the 1990s provides more living, breathing elasticity. The foundation for the new agreement was announced in 2011 but not finalized until recently. Called the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, it sharply restricts Denver’s ability to develop new water sources on the Western Slope and also calls for Denver to provide both water and money to address problems in the Vail, Breckenridge and Winter Park areas.

Then, in 2012, came agreements addressing the ambitions by five cities along the northern Front Range to increase the take of spring flows at Windy Gap, similar to what Denver wants to do at the Moffat Tunnel.

The Windy Gap settlement introduced adaptive management, an idea gaining favor in management of rivers of the West for several decades. The essential idea of Learning by Doing, the program embraced for both Windy Gap and the Moffat projects, is that it’s impossible to know exactly what to do in advance…

“In the past, you’d build a project, do the required mitigation and move on. That’s no longer the case. Denver Water is committed to a new way of doing business – one that approaches water management in a way that is collaborative and as beneficial to West Slope interests as possible. The partnership we’ve created through Learning by Doing is permanent. Our commitment is t o work with Grand County, Trout Unlimited and all the partners in Learning by Doing in an ongoing manner permanently into the future.”

More Denver Water coverage here.


The Colorado Basin Roundtable trims the list of potential projects for the basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 20, 2014

maroonlakewikipedia

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Aspen Daily News covering water issues in Colorado. I met one of their reporters, Nelson Harvey, last Wednesday at the Water Availability Task Force meeting. Aspen Journalism now has boots on the ground in Denver and on the Front Range.

Here’s an article about the Colorado Basin Roundtable basin implementation plan from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News:

Consultants for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable earlier this week passed out a much shorter list of water projects to be potentially included in a draft water-supply plan for the area.

New reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks were not included on the working draft list, but enlarging three existing reservoirs in the Roaring Fork River watershed are.

The potentially expanded reservoirs include Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights; Ziegler Reservoir just outside of Snowmass Village; and Martin Reservoir just above the Sunlight ski area.

Instead of over 500 potential projects and updated policy suggestions, the draft list passed out at a roundtable meeting on Monday by consulting engineer Louis Meyer of SGM included 95 potential projects and policies.

SGM has divided the broader Colorado River Basin in Colorado into seven sub-regions: the Roaring Fork, Grand Valley, Middle Colorado, State Bridge, Eagle, Summit and Grand County regions.

Meyer expected to ultimately see about seven to 10 of the projects identified per region under the category of “needs and vulnerabilities.”

In discussing the earlier list of 500-plus potential projects and policy changes identified for the Colorado River Basin, Meyer noted that many projects on the longer list would likely remain conceptual.

“Now mind you, a lot of these reservoirs will never be built,” Meyer said. “There are reservoirs, say, up Maroon Creek or Castle Creek — the chances are they will never be built.”

“Let’s just say, ‘won’t be built for quite a while,’” interjected Mike McDill, the deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

The city holds conditional water rights for reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks and wants to see the reservoirs mentioned in the statewide water plan…

Many of the projects on the shorter draft list are designed to leave more water in the rivers to the benefit of aquatic environments.

However, Meyer said there is still a non-consumptive, or environmental, gap in the Colorado basin’s draft plan.

Meyer said the plan did not yet have solutions to leave more water in all of the 64 critical stream segments in the basin identified by the state.

“This plan will recommend that more work be done on identifying a systemic approach to projects and polices to restore and maintain healthy rivers,” Meyer said.

As an example, Meyer cited three reaches of river in the Roaring Fork watershed that had at times run well below the minimum in-stream flows defined by the state as necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

The critical reaches are on the lower Crystal River below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, on the Roaring Fork just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt, and on the Roaring Fork in central Aspen below the Salvation Ditch.

Many of the projects identified on the short list for the Roaring Fork region are being recommended for their ability to “protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers.”

Projects that have been identified toward that goal include: restoring sections of the Roaring Fork as it winds through the Northstar nature preserve east of Aspen; the ongoing river restoration work in Basalt; and a restoration project on Cattle Creek, which flows into the Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Other environmental projects listed were whitewater parks in Basalt and Carbondale, which can help ensure a certain amount of water will flow down the Fork; the city of Aspen’s project to re-use wastewater for irrigation and snowmaking; Pitkin County’s effort to leave more water from its open space properties in the Fork; and efficiency efforts by local water utilities.

Also mentioned were ongoing discussions with irrigators on the Crystal River to find a way to leave more water in the river below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, where the river often runs nearly dry…

In 2010, a state study identified a gap of 110,000 acre-feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

And the state found that projects already in the planning stage could produce 63,000 acre-feet of water, leaving an expected gap of 48,000 acre-feet.

Lurline Curran, the Grand County manager and roundtable member, said it would be wrong to leave the impression that there was still plenty of water to be taken out of the Colorado River Basin.

“We can build every reservoir we’ve got here, but we’re not going to have healthy rivers and streams if we do that,” Curran said. “It worries me when we say ‘We’ve got 10 times more than we need to meet our gap.’ No, we don’t, not if we’re going to protect and maintain healthy rivers and streams and protect our drinking water.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: Scaling back to 550 cfs by Monday #ColoradoRiver

April 18, 2014

greenmountainreservoir

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’ll be scaling back releases from Green Mountain over the weekend and then plan to maintain the lower release rate through next week. By Monday, April 21, we should be releasing about 550 cfs to the Lower Blue. The reduction in releases is due to some regularly scheduled maintenance. Property owners downstream of the dam have planned some channel work to correspond with the maintenance.

Releases will begin stepping back tomorrow, Saturday. We will go from 750 to 700 cfs around 8 p.m tomorrow evening. On Sunday, we will do two changes: the first at 4 p.m. from 700 to 650 cfs. The second around 10 p.m. from 650 to 600 cfs. On Monday, we will drop down one more time around 6 a.m. from 600 to 550 cfs.

Releases will go back up the following weekend of April 26.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


Reclamation now expects Lake Powell to fill to 3,620 feet this season #ColoradoRiver

April 18, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From KSL (Ray Grass):

The current level of Lake Powell is 3,574 feet above sea level. When full the level is 3,700 feet. Because of an above normal snowpack in Colorado this winter, which feeds the lake, the level is expected to reach 3,620 this summer. Which is, forecasters admitted, much better than was expected earlier in the winter.

The current level is not the lowest on record. Back in 2005 the lake’s level dropped to 3,555 feet. In 2011, the lake rose to within 40 feet of “full pool’’ and likely would have hit the full mark had not water releases not been increased into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam…

As far as the invasive quagga mussel, adult mussels have been found in Lake Powell. Officials knew that once the mussels established a foothold in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream fron Lake Powell, it would be only a matter of time before they made their way into Lake Powell.

A report in February said “thousands’’ of the tiny bivalves were located in Lake Powell. The mussels cause damage, are a nuisance to lake visitors and are a serious danger to fishing. Each mussel can produce millions of offspring and biologists have been unable to find a way to control the mussels, which fall in the same family as clams, oysters and scallops.

The first quagga mussel was found in Lake Powell in 2007. They were not discovered again until this year.

From the Casa Grande Dispatch (Kayla S. Samoy):

he overall snowpack stands at 115 percent of average for this time of the year in the Rockies. But, is it time to break out the red cups and toast an imminent reprieve in the drought and the dire predictions of cutbacks in regional allotments for water supplies from the 1,450-mile-long Colorado? Not so fast.

“It may be a better-than-average snowpack, but depending on what the weather does it could not snow any more or get hot very quickly and evaporate the water instead of having it flow into the Colorado River basin,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, the agency that manages Colorado River flow into Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties.

There are other factors that will contribute to this winter’s snowpack impact on the Colorado River, said Bob Barrett, another CAP spokesman.

“The concern is that it’s been pretty mild the last month. We’ve had pretty good precipitation, but it was warm,” said Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado River Basin forecast center.
Smith said much of the debate about snowpack is rooted in the differences in the snowpack at different heights. According to Smith, lower elevations have seen very little snow this year…

The Green River Basin area in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado has a significant snowpack, the third-highest on record for this time of the year, said Smith. While that may be advantageous for some places, Arizona is a different story.

“Arizona is kind of a disaster,” Smith said.

Many winter storms skirted northern Arizona and the snow sites in the Verde and Salt River basins are nearly bereft of snow. The snow that did fall in that area disappeared quickly. Since the area doesn’t see many storms after mid-March, there isn’t much chance for a rebound, Smith said.

Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing the worst drought of the century. So far, Colorado River water users have not faced decreases in the amount of water they receiving because of reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were full when the drought began. Today they are about half full.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the 17 western states, makes predictions about the state of water every two years. It currently projects that less water will be released from Lake Powell and Lake Mead this year and perhaps next year if the levels in the lake are still low.

“Right now they’re looking at the potential for shortage in either 2015 or 2016,” said Basefsky. “A shortage is pretty significant for CAP because we have the junior priority for the Colorado River Basin. We would forego importing about 20 percent of our water supply.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Congress is hot off the presses #COleg #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 18, 2014
Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Minute 319 enables water to flow in the #ColoradoRiver delta

April 17, 2014
Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Right now, for the first time in many years, the Colorado River is flowing through its historic delta to the sea as a result of an intentional release by water managers. Scenes of jubilation have spread across the Internet as children play in a river they’ve never seen before, and scientists report that bird counts in the corridor are already up.

Meanwhile, combined water storage upstream from the delta in Lakes Mead and Powell have dropped to the lowest they’ve been since Powell filled in the 1960s, as water withdrawals from the river and its tributaries have exceeded new inflows for more than 10 years.

How can this be, that in an era of increasing competition for water, water was found to re-water the Colorado River Delta, and there aren’t riots in the streets? The answer provides a window into the complexities of water management on the river, and the determination of multiple parties to work together to solve its challenges.

The plan to release water to benefit the Colorado River Delta ecosystem was part of a complex “Minute 319” agreement between the United States, Mexico and the seven states that share the Colorado River, as well as several nongovernmental organizations on both sides of the international border. Some of the provisions include allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and infrastructure improvements to Mexican irrigation systems. After a “pulse flow” of several weeks that simulates a moderate flood, minimum base flows will be maintained.

This agreement did not take shape overnight. It took years of study and negotiation by people who came to understand in detail the way the river is managed and the interests of all the parties that rely on this single source of water that brings life to so much otherwise dry land.

Many questions remain about how the natural environment will respond to this release of water, and whether the political environment will allow the experiment to be repeated. But the fact that it is happening at all is a major accomplishment.

If it is possible to find water for the Colorado Delta and simultaneously benefit other water users after a decade of extreme drought, then surely it must be possible to overcome other seemingly irreconcilable differences over water in the West.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

April 17, 2014

gorecreekwinter

From the Vail Daily:

An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.


La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

April 17, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

“Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting ready to start importing water from the West Slope collection of the Fryingpan-Arkansas system to the East Slope. As long as minimum flows at both the Thomasville and Hunter Creek gages are met, we can begin diversions of additional water through the Boustead Tunnel.

Here are the minimum flows for the Fryingpan River at Thomasville:

Date Min Flow, (cfs)
Oct. 1 – Mar. 31 30
Apr. 1 – Apr. 30 100
May 1 – May 31 150
Jun. 1 – Jun. 30 200
Jul. 1 – Jul. 31 100
Aug. 1 – Aug 31 75
Sep 1 – Sep 30 65

Additionally, at Twin Lakes dam, we are curtailing releases to Lake Creek and the Arkansas River today and tomorrow. Today, we scaled back to about 100 cfs. Tomorrow, we will continue scaling back to 0 cfs while a regular review of the dam is conducted. Once the review is complete, we will bring releases back up.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


The Town of Breckenridge to host public forums about new water treatment plant, April 26 and 28 #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

Breckenridge could start construction on a new water plant along the Blue River in as soon as three years. But first, the town wants your input.

The public is invited to attend four forums to learn about the construction of the town’s second water plant and give comments. The forums will be April 23 and 28, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. both days, at the Breckenridge Police Station.

“This is the master plan for the next 25 to 30 years,” said town manager Tim Gagen.

At the forums, town officials will explain the projected cost of the plant and upgrades to the water system.

The first phase of the project includes building the plant, pumps and plumbing to get the water integrated with the current system, he said, which should cost about $25 million to $30 million dollars. The plant itself should cost about $10 million, which Gagen called reasonable. The expensive part, he said, will be pumping water a couple miles into town, against gravity.

Phase two includes extending lines into areas outside the town limits not currently serviced, which Gagen said could cost more than $40 million but would only be built if and when people want that service.

Customers living outside the town limits use private wells that have a high likelihood of failure and need equipment replacements after 15 or 20 years. And before this project, he said, if those people wanted water service, the town had to annex their land.

People in those areas have called about extending service to their neighborhoods, Gagen said, not to feed their homes, but to feed water hydrants on the street. That would help with wildfire protection and lower their insurance rates.

“They would have to pay for it,” he said about the phase two extensions. “It wouldn’t be built by the current customers.”

Gagen said he expects questions at the forums about the plant’s locations and the impact on the Blue River.

As far as where the new plant will go, officials know the water will be drawn from the river just north of Swan Mountain Road.

The town hasn’t decided yet on the plant’s exact location, but it will be north of town for several reasons.

Putting it north of town, closer to Dillon Reservoir, means the plant would leave water in the Breckenridge part of the Blue River in town, which he said is better for the health of the river and doesn’t counteract the restoration work done there in the last few decades.

A site north of town also is better for water rights issues, as the Upper Blue Sanitation District has some rights in town.

And the water quantity and quality is better closer to the lake, Gagen said, with lower concentrations of heavy metals leftover from mining.

Gagen said the town looked at putting the plant closer to the original one, south of town, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of insecurity in the system in case of mechanical failure.

Unlike the water systems in Silverthorne and Dillon, which are interconnected in case one of the towns has an emergency, “We’re a standalone system,” Gagen said. “We don’t have a backup.”

“And” he added, “our biggest fear quite honestly is fire.”

Erosion from fire affects the cost to treat water. A second plant would give the utility time for repairs and cleanup.

So although the whole project will cost more because of the location farther north, he said, the town will “trade additional costs for other positives we think will be beneficial to the community in the long-run.”

The Water System Study

A task force established in 2011 to consider issues surrounding the town’s water system found that the supply to the existing Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant would be very low in an extreme drought, leading to shortages. And though the town has made improvements in water conservation and management efficiency, the current water plant (which was constructed beginning in 1972) is nearing 80 percent capacity.

A study of the town’s water system by Sarah C. Clark, an engineer in Denver, was completed and presented to the town council in January.

The study strongly recommends the construction of a three-MGD (million gallons per day) plant to meet future population demands and provide more service to the homes and lots near the existing water system’s boundaries.

In the event of a wildfire or another environmental disaster or a mechanical malfunction of the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also noted that the current Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers compared to other Colorado communities. The new plant will require increases in the user fees which will be shared by current and future customers.

Besides increasing water rates and fees, Gagen said the town is looking at a list of potential revenue streams, including about $8 million the utility has saved for improvements, grants and funding from partners like the county.

Debt will be the most important element of the financing, he said, helping to spread the cost over about 30 years “so no one generation of people is suffering the cost of paying for the whole thing.”

For now, the town is in the process of gathering public input and meeting with Summit County government and Upper Blue Sanitation District officials.

Then the town will start modifying water rates to fit the new plant, and after three or four years of the design and approval process, it will start construction.

The study is available online at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com, and the town council urges the public to review it before the public forums.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Ditches are running along the Roaring Fork #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

For Gavin Metcalf, April 15 isn’t just tax day. It’s the beginning of six months of full time work as Carbondale’s official “Ditch Rider.”

Metcalf’s steed is a John Deere utility vehicle, but otherwise his job description looks like something out of the previous century. He starts the morning by turning a wheel on a large metal gate along the bank of the Crystal River. When the water in the Carbondale Ditch reaches a certain point, he locks the gate in place.

“You can tell it’s the right depth because that root is just barely sticking out of the water,” he explains. Sure enough, when he walks down to the flume for a more scientific measurement, it’s dead on…

In addition to natural challenges, Metcalf struggles with human interference. People construct makeshift dams which can flood upstream and burn out downstream pumps. They dump all manner of things into ditches they wouldn’t dream of throwing in the river. Not that most of it makes it that far. Even grass clippings tend to stick around and clog the system, explains Metcalf. And when he has to turn off the water to fix the problem, few residents connect the dots.

“The water is there to be used,” Metcalf says, “but a lot of people don’t seem to understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Carbondale’s water rights on the Crystal are as old as the town itself. It’s one of the few municipalities in the region — along with Aspen and Silt — that has kept its system intact. The original 1880s rights were expanded considerably in the 1920s. Since then, usage has fluctuated as the community expands and the ranches begin to disappear.

So far, the runoff forecast for this year looks bright, but Carbondale’s utilities department is planning ahead. “If, at some point, we elect to go into water rationing, we want a really firm idea of what it’s going to take to maintain the system under drought conditions,” explains Utilities Director Mark O’Meara. “It’s going to take some time to really dial in, but I think we have enough foundation to make better judgment calls on how much we take out of the river.”

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


“We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen” — Don Ostler #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Still in the earliest stages of negotiation, two remedies have emerged, both of which seek to fortify Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, and preserve its capacity to generate electricity and supply water to the 40 million people who live in the watershed.

One strategy is an operational revision: release more water from upper-basin reservoirs during drought emergencies. The other option would cut demand: ask – or perhaps pay – farmers to stop growing crops in order to save water. Both approaches are technically and legally feasible, according to those involved in the discussions and outside experts.

“We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”[...]

… in the iconic Colorado River, flows have been above average in only three of the last 14 years. If the rest of the decade follows a similar hydrological trajectory, “dramatic problems emerge rather quickly,” said John McClow, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission. McClow told Circle of Blue that the basin states used computer simulations last June to replicate the 2001 to 2007 river flows, a rather dry period, from 2014 until the end of the decade…

The upper basin wants to prevent a call on the river, a circumstance in which the four states are unable to meet their legal obligations to send water downstream to Arizona, California, and Nevada. A call has never happened.

The upper basin also wants to keep Lake Powell’s surface elevation from dropping below 3,490 feet, the point at which hydropower generation from Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, would probably stop. Lake Powell has never tested that limit, a theoretical threshold. Today, Powell’s surface elevation is 3,574 feet, having fallen 60 feet in two years.

Glen Canyon provides as many as 5.8 million people with a portion of their electricity. Revenue from electricity sales helps pay to operate the dams. It also underwrites measures to reduce salt in the Colorado River and revive fish habitat.

To keep Powell from draining, one option is to release more water from reservoirs located higher in the basin: Flaming Gorge, in Wyoming; Navajo, in New Mexico; and a Colorado cluster known as the Aspinall Unit. These Rocky Mountain reservoirs evaporate less water than Powell, located in Utah’s arid canyon country, said Malcolm Wilson, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group, which operates the reservoirs. But that does not preclude a shift in operations.

“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t release more water than we have to sustain Powell,” Wilson told Circle of Blue, stating that the interests of the upper basin and Reclamation align, both wanting to keep the dam’s cash register ringing…

McClow noted that recreation and environmental constraints would need to be respected. Each of the higher-elevation reservoirs has an endangered species in its watershed, he said.

Along with the reservoir shuffle, upper basin negotiators are debating what a farmland fallowing program would look like. More questions – Who pays for it? Which lands are targeted? – than answers exist now, McClow said.

Doug Kenney, a water policy expert at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Center, said he saw no obvious legal problems with the two options.

“As long as they don’t try to be too picky about who owns that water, then I think it’s entirely realistic,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “If they want to be picky, then all sorts of legal issues and potential problems come forward.”

Kenney said that ascribing ownership to the water begins to resemble the selling or transfer of water rights across state lines, a bête noire for the basin. Better, he said, if the water is not earmarked and simply flows downstream.

Ostler, the river commission’s executive director, said that the upper basin would like to have a plan finalized by the end of the year…

…none of the [Lower Basin] representatives that Circle of Blue contacted offered many details about their drought planning.

“We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, also demurred and declined to comment.

Pellegrino did say that the lower basin states are using hydrology models used in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin study, a comprehensive supply and demand assessment published in December 2012.

That study assessed water use through 2060, but the current drought discussions take a narrower view. Pellegrino said the lower basin interests are looking at options through 2026, the year that the shortage sharing agreement expires.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR


Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


“American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases” — Chris Treese #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 14, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The upper reaches of the Colorado River make up one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, largely because of the possibility of a transmountain diversion, according to an annual listing. The upper Colorado came in second among the most endangered rivers, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, which last year put the Colorado River on top of the list of endangered rivers, criticizing the “outdated water management throughout the region.”

The upper Colorado’s listing this year gives ammunition to the Western Slope in dealing with Front Range interests looking at a new diversion, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The listing “serves to highlight the uncertainty about the Colorado water plan,” Treese said.

It also, however, reflects a lack of knowledge about the inner dynamics of Colorado water and how the state already is dealing with those matters, he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper last year ordered the development of a statewide water plan to be on his desk this December and be complete by the end of 2015. State officials are aware that they’re under close observation, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We know that downstream states, the federal government, and numerous national organizations are watching what Colorado is doing with our water, and that’s an important reason why we’re engaged in Colorado’s water plan,” Eklund said, noting that the plan is being drafted with the state’s system of prior appropriation in mind.

The water plan is to take into account the work already done by various groups, or roundtables, representing the state’s river basins, the Colorado River Basin among them.

“American Rivers isn’t coming to the roundtables” or the Interbasin Compact Committee, Treese said. “American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases.”

The statewide water plan won’t include a transmountain diversion, but it could outline the way that one could be pursued.

American Rivers worked with several conservation and environmental organizations in listing the upper Colorado as endangered, among them Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. The statewide water plan, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, offers “both a threat and an opportunity” to the Western Slope. To be sure, some Front Range water providers view it as an opportunity to send more water east from the Yampa, Gunnison or Colorado mainstem, Miller said.

Many of the river basins in Colorado already suffer water shortages, so the water plan discussion is an opportunity to find ways to protect rivers “that are so valuable for irrigation, recreation and other things,” Miller said. In any case, the plan should focus on preserving the 80,000 jobs and the $9 billion the river generates on the Western Slope, Miller said.

American Rivers called on Colorado to avoid a transmountain diversion, increase the efficient use of water in cities and towns, modernize agricultural practices and give priority to river restoration and protection. The organization listed the San Joaquin River in California as the most endangered in the nation and also placed the White River in northwest Colorado as the seventh-most endangered because it’s threatened by oil and gas development.

The listing, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is “vague and hyperbolic and it disregards the fact that Colorado has the most robust regulations in the nation, and probably the world, when it comes to protecting water.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Highline Lake dredging complete #ColoradoRiver

April 14, 2014

highlinelake

From Dredging Today:

The dredging operation removed years of silt buildup that will significantly enhance water recreation at the popular park, located northwest of Fruita.

“We thank the public for their patience while the work has been going on,” said Park Manager Alan Martinez. “The project was successful and we invite everyone to come out and enjoy one of the best boating opportunities in the Grand Valley.”

The East boat ramp had been closed for over three years due to a deep buildup of silt. The dredging restored a deep channel out to the lake from the East Bay making it accessible to boaters.

The West boat ramp remains open as well.

In addition, the work uncovered the dam outlet structure allowing divers to perform safety inspections and testing.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Colorado Lottery provided $1,070,000 for the project; however, the project’s total costs to date are $870,000.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Breck snowfall above average 4 months in a row

April 14, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Fourth-snowiest year on record in Summit County

Big snows coated the Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

Big snows coated Colorado’s Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Another month of above-normal snowfall has put Breckenridge on track for its fourth-snowiest winter on record, according to National Weather Service observer Rick Bly, who measured 37.4 inches at his backyard gauge.

That makes it the 10th-snowiest March, a month that sees average snowfall of 25.5 inches. Bly said precipitation has been above average for four straight months. During the current water year, which started Oct. 1, only November saw slightly below normal snowfall. Precipitation (the combination of melted snow and rain) for the water year to date is already at 15.2 inches, nearly six inches more than average.

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Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 710 cfs in the Blue River below the dam #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014

greenmountainreservoir

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Currently, we are releasing about 710 cfs from the dam to the Lower Blue River. The reservoir is at a water level elevation of about 7890 feet–that’s roughly 60 feet below full, or roughly 38% of its total content.

You will see the reservoir water elevation continue to drop for about another month. The current snowpack above the Blue River Basin is around 140% of average for this time of year. I’ve been asked how this compares to snowpack numbers for the 2011 season on the Blue River. In 2011 in April we were closer to 150%. We continue to keep an eye on the snowpack conditions, fluctuating inflows, and the water level elevation and adjusting releases as necessary. It is likely the 710 cfs release rate will remain in place well into next week.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Seasonal fill for Horestooth and Carter underway #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are in the process of filling both Horsetooth and Carter Lake. Currently, Horsetooth is roughly 80% full at an elevation of 5414 feet above sea level. This is its average water elevation high mark for the beginning of the summer season in a typical year. But, this is not a typical water year and Horsetooth’s water elevation is projected to continue going up.

Similarly, Carter Lake is 90% full at a water level elevation of about 5749 feet. Like Horsetooth, it is projected to continue filling. At this time, we are anticipating Carter will fill, hitting its highest water level elevation for the season by mid-May. Horsetooth will likely hit its highest water level elevation for the season by late June.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Wild and Scenic status for Deep Creek? BLM defers to coalition to keep feds out of management.

April 12, 2014
Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Federal agencies have found Deep Creek east of Glenwood Canyon to be suitable for wild and scenic protective status.

But the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have decided to defer such a determination for parts of the Colorado River in and east of the canyon and instead give a coalition the chance to provide similar protections while keeping the federal government out of it.

The decisions were announced as part of final resource management plans released by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Kremmling field offices, and a related action by the White River National Forest. They are subject to protest periods before they can be finalized.

The agency determinations regarding Deep Creek wouldn’t confer the protective status on Deep Creek. That would require an act of Congress, or by the Interior secretary under certain conditions when a state governor petitions for it. Only one waterway in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, is now a wild and scenic river.

The Deep Creek suitability finding applies to Forest Service and BLM segments covering about 15 miles of the Colorado River tributary, which as its name suggests is rugged and largely inaccessible. According to a suitability report from both agencies, they determined the segments can be managed under the wild and scenic designation “with very little conflict with other uses because most of the land is federal, and the likelihood of development is small.”

Circumstances are different on the Colorado River, leading the agencies to hold off, at least for now, on determining wild and scenic suitability for nearly 100 miles of water on several stretches from Gore Canyon outside Kremmling through No Name just east of Glenwood Springs. Instead, they’ve decided to see if a stakeholder group’s alternative management plan will suffice. That group is made up of counties, conservation groups, western Colorado and Front Range water utilities, and other entities worried about the implications should wild and scenic status be conferred on the river.

“It will have all the protections of that but doesn’t come with the federal designation, which is going to be key for the local management of the river in Colorado,” said Mike Eytel, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is part of the group.

The concern of a wild and scenic designation is its potential to limit water development within river stretches receiving that protection.

“It could have a significant impact on our ability to develop Colorado River water, in my opinion,” Eytel said.

The Forest Service’s draft decision states that the decision to give the stakeholders’ proposal a chance will provide certainty for their “water yield and flexibility for future management on such a complex river system as the Colorado River.”

Eytel said assuming the decisions go forward, the real work begins for the group as it seeks to monitor and manage the river as outlined in its plan. Under the Forest Service and BLM decisions, they reserve the right to revisit the suitability question later if protections aren’t adequate.

The BLM also has found dozens of other river and creek stretches to not be suitable for wild and scenic status, including stretches farther upstream on the Colorado River.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack news: “You’ve had a great snow year” — Nolan Doesken #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

“You’ve had a great snow year,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University, “and it doesn’t take a crazy scientist to tell you that.”

The Summit Ranch measurement site recorded 30 percent above the 30-year median Friday. The Fremont Pass, Hoosier Pass and Grizzly Peak sites recorded between 126 and 139 percent of that median Friday.

“February was huge, March was plentiful and April so far has had just a storm or two,” he said, “but there’s another one coming for the weekend.”

The sites at lower altitudes, like the Copper Mountain site, have already started showing some snow melt, he said. The county is almost assured an excellent run-off season with full reservoirs.

Notwithstanding dry weather in the spring, the county should avoid drought conditions through the summer, said Troy Wineland, Summit’s water commissioner…

And snowpack has treated other parts of the state well. The South Platte Basin has recorded the most above-average snowpack, he said, which means the East Slope should take less water from across the Continental Divide, leaving more for the mountain region…

The settled base at Breckenridge Ski Resort is about 10 inches above normal for this time of year, said spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart, and snowfall for the season so far is about 70 inches above average.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said, “year-to-date snowfall is just over 360 inches, and any season with that much snow is going to bode well for our business.”[...]

The Blue River water levels were too low for rafting for the last two years, said Campy Campton, co-owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco, who has been rafting locally for almost 30 years. In 2013, he said, the weather was shaping up to repeat the drought conditions of 2012.

“It was little stressful going into April,” he said, “but Mother Nature came through and saved us.”[...]

This year’s above-average snowpack was likely caused by climate patterns around the country. With the “bone-chilling relentless cold” in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes region and the warm dry winter in California and the Pacific Northwest, Doesken said, Colorado was “sort of in a squeeze zone between the two.”

Summit County especially was hit with jet stream air blowing from the northwest, “popping it right up the Blue River Valley” and concentrating snow in an ideal and consistent way.

“Does that mean anything for the future?” he asked. “No. That’s just how it happened this year.”


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 11, 2014

aspinallunitdescription

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning, April 14th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 850 cfs to 950 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 500 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water board sets C-BT quota to 60% #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Water, which manages water stored throughout a massive system of linked reservoirs in Northern Colorado, set its annual water quota at 60 percent, despite customer requests to receive 70 percent of their full potential water allotment.

Since 1957, Northern Water has issued the water quotas, which dictate the amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that will flow to cities, industrial complexes and farmers in Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins typically gets half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and has been particularly dependent on the system after High Park Fire debris polluted the Poudre River.

Fort Collins was among customers who lobbied Northern Water for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday, during a stakeholders meeting held to discuss this year’s quota. Despite those requests, Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended that Northern Water’s board opt for a 60 percent quota.

A few factors went into Pineda’s recommendation, including Colorado’s above-average snowpack, high reservoir levels, and the general absence of drought in Northern Colorado. Spring runoff this year is expected to release an extra 100,000 acre feet of water down area streams and rivers, which should limit the region’s need for supplemental water from the Colorado-Big Thompson.

Pineda’s opinion was not shared by all. A few farmers asked the board for a 70-100 percent quota to help them plan for the growing season. Fort Collins wanted 70 percent to help offset troubles with Poudre River water quality. There is also a chance that Lake Granby reservoir will spill over this June, and a few stakeholders were concerned that water would be wasted with a reduced quota.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Four lessons for water-stressed regions, from the #ColoradoRiver — David Festa

April 11, 2014
Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

From the Environmental Defense Fund (David Festa):

Restoring rivers: Four steps to a pulse flow

Can the pulse flow be replicated to restore rivers in other water stressed regions around the world? With apologies to the importance of the nuances of international water-sharing agreements, here’s my shorthand of the steps needed to get a pulse flow.

First, find water. Anywhere irrigation is critical to food production, agriculture is responsible for 70% or more of withdrawals from rivers, streams and groundwater. As societies realize the value of conserving water, money can be made available to incentivize farmers and managers of irrigation infrastructure to improve, voluntarily, irrigation efficiency. In other words, with the right incentives, they can maintain or improve their food production using less water.

Second, find a way to buy some of the saved water. Farmers who save water through efficiency can choose what to do with the “saved” water. One choice is to sell or lease it to someone else, using the payments to help defray the cost of improving efficiency.

Third, particularly for rivers where flow is generated by melting mountain snowpack, find a way to mimic a spring flood. Water savings accrue over time so releasing water as efficiency measures are put into place would produce but a trickle at a time. The key is to store enough water to make a difference. In this instance, Minute 319 broke new ground in international water sharing by allowing Mexico to store up water in Lake Mead, a short drive from the famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.

Finally, prepare the way. Starting several years ago, farmers and conservation advocates worked together in the Colorado River Delta to plant and irrigate several hundred acres of restored native habitat. The natural condition for the delta includes periods of drought and periods of floods (natural pulse flows). Therefore, the ecosystem has evolved to take advantage of this kind of wet/dry cycle. The problem is that with only a handful of exceptions, the delta has not been wet through and through since before the early 1960s! Much of the natural vegetation had long since died out.

The hope is that the pulse flow will act like a cardiac defibrillator and shock the system back into its routine, albeit for only a portion of the historic delta. But the restored connection between the Colorado River upstream and the Upper Gulf of California should be a boon to the hundreds of bird species that migrate the Pacific flyway. Of course for this to be truly successful, it will require more pulse flows (scientists think, about one every five years) and a small amount of steady water (called base flow) in between just to keep things damp.

A new foundation for stewardship

Thanks to the painstaking approach taken by the architects of Minute 319, there is a solid foundation for this new approach to stewardship of the Colorado River.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


American Rivers names the Upper #ColoradoRiver the #2 most endangered for 2014 #COWaterPlan

April 10, 2014
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From American Rivers:

Threat: Water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation

The Upper Colorado River and its tributaries include some of the most heavily degraded rivers and some of the last truly healthy rivers in the West. The rivers are critical to Colorado’s heritage; they are the life-line for much of the state’s fish and wildlife, they sustain a vibrant agricultural economy, and they provide world-class opportunities for fishing, paddling, and hiking. However, these renowned rivers are threatened by increasing water demands and new proposed water diversions. The Governor of Colorado must take a stand now and keep water flowing in the rivers by promoting responsible conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan.

The River

The Colorado River Basin in the State of Colorado includes the mainstem Colorado River and headwater rivers, such as the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Blue, Yampa, White, and Gunnison. Gold medal trout fisheries, world class paddling, and glorious massive canyons can be found throughout this river system. The resort areas of Winter Park, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, as well as much of the urban Front Range (on the other side of the Continental Divide), all get some or all of their drinking water from these rivers. The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including several fish listed as endangered.

The Threat

n 2013, American Rivers listed the Colorado River as #1 on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the overarching concern of outdated water management throughout the entire basin. To begin addressing this concern in the Upper Basin, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the first statewide Water Plan to determine how Colorado will meet its water needs in the future. With its population expected to double by 2050, Colorado must seize this opportunity to chart a more sustainable course for water management.

Approximately 80% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range in cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, but 80% of Colorado’s snow and rain falls on the Western Slope, primarily within the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Front Range has long depended on “trans-mountain” projects that pump, pipe, and divert water over the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin for municipal use, lawn irrigation, and agriculture. These dams and diversions decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope. Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers further away, like the Yampa and Gunnison Rivers— rivers not yet impaired by trans-mountain diversions.

The Governor of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board cannot afford to fall back on outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes as acceptable solutions when they develop the water plan for Colorado’s future. Rivers are vitally important for Coloradans, and protecting and restoring rivers needs to be a top priority. If we want rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure they have enough water.

What Must Be Done

Colorado Basin Rivers have played an important role providing water for Front Range development, but many of the rivers are drained and have no more water to give. The Draft Colorado Water Plan is scheduled to be released in December 2014, and the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board must make the following common sense principles a core part of the plan:

  • Prioritize protecting healthy flowing rivers and restoring degraded ones
  • Increase water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns
  • Modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators— who now use more than 80% of Colorado’s water— to share water with urban areas in ways that both maintain valuable ranches and farms and keep rivers healthy
  • Avoid new major trans-mountain diversion projects so as not to further harm Upper Colorado rivers and the communities that depend upon them
  • Adopting these strategies will allow sustainable use of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, without building costly, environmentally harmful, and ultimately ineffective projects on these cherished rivers. Greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices will enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come. Taking additional water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, already over-taxed by existing water diversions, should not be an option and will be unnecessary if the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board adopt a sensible Water Plan.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    A nearby tributary of the Colorado, the White River, is No. 7 on the list because of the amount of energy exploration taking place along its length, American Rivers’ Director of the Colorado River Basin Program Matt Rice said Wednesday.

    #The threat of future trans-mountain diversion that would export water from the upper Colorado to the state’s Front Range is the reason the basin ranks high among the top 10 again in 2014. However, Rice said, it’s also the process already underway to establish a new water plan for Colorado that is putting the focus on the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

    #“We want to make sure common-sense principles are included and prioritized in Colorado’s new water plan. We want healthy rivers to be a core component,” Rice said. “And we want to make sure this plan doesn’t support a new trans-basin project. That’s why it’s No. 2 on our list this year.”

    #Steamboat resident Ken Vertrees is uniquely situated in the ongoing discussions about the future of the Yampa as it fits into the Upper Colorado Basin and the water needs of all of Colorado. He sits on the combined Yampa, White, Green river basin roundtable that was tasked by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 with coming up with a water plan for this basin that will be incorporated into a statewide draft plan in December 2014 and ultimately into the finalized Colorado Water Plan due to be completed no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

    #In addition, Vertrees sits on the board of the Steamboat-based nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, which is a partner with American Rivers on its 10 most endangered project. He said the rivers of the upper Colorado have in-basin needs of their own to meet before other basins come after their water.

    #“The state has a 20 percent gap in water supply going out to 2050. That’s the whole impetus for everything we’re doing right now,” he said.

    #Vertrees thinks there is potential for the people of the Yampa Basin to become a “complete loser” in the statewide planning process as water officials seek to close that gap either by redirecting water across the state or conserving, or both.

    #One presumption is that the Front Range, where 82 percent of the state’s population is located, will seek the last great trans-mountain diversion, with water now leaving the state in the Yampa, on its way to the Green and ultimately the Colorado, one of the primary targets.

    #The possibility of spending several billions of dollars to capture some of the water leaving Colorado in the Yampa and pumping it eastward across the Continental Divide to the Front Range surfaced in the middle of the past decade. But two proposals to do just that since have languished…

    Ultimately, Vertrees said, he’s hopeful that the state of Colorado as a whole will recognize the intrinsic value of the Yampa in its lower reaches as a wild desert river that supports a rare community of plants and animals.

    #“It’s a very scary time, in some ways, for our river and our basins,” Vertrees said. “Our non-consumptive water rights are critical to the health of the river. It maintains globally rare habitats and federally endangered fish that are found nowhere else. Isn’t that critical for us, as the state of Colorado, to protect forever?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water hears from C-BT customers about this year’s quota #ColoradoRiver

    April 10, 2014
    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    City officials, farmers and industry representatives Wednesday urged the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to significantly raise the amount of water the district allocates from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this year…

    The meeting comes as Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs contain an average amount of water. Officials say that water storage will swell with higher than average snowpack in the Colorado and South Platte river basins.

    Farmers such as Steve Shultz, who farms corn, sugar beets and other crops, advocated a 100-percent quota at Wednesday’s meeting. Shultz said he needed the added water to finish his crops later in the growing season when he runs out of other water supplies.
    “We still depend on that late season storage water,” he said.

    Beth Molenaar, water resources engineer for the city of Fort Collins, said the city would support a quota of at least 70 percent this year because it has received multiple requests from farmers to rent water. The city rented very little water to farmers last year because of shorter supply of water related to poor Cache la Poudre River water quality caused by fires. Fort Collins gets about half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Much to their relief, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials aren’t in the same predicament now that they were a year ago. During presentations on Wednesday, Northern Water personnel — tasked with overseeing the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region — explained how they now have nearly enough water to meet full quotas for two years.

    Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a C-BT quota every April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent, although it rarely does, and still have some in storage for the next year.

    That wasn’t at all the case a year ago. Snowpack in the mountains and reservoirs were so low that a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT system. It was only the second time in the 57-year history of the project that the board had been so limited in the quota it could set. The board last year settled on a 60 percent quota, falling short of the historic average of about a 70 percent quota.

    “The outlook is much brighter this year,” said Andy Pineda, water resources manager for Northern Water, referring to his numbers, some of which showed snowpack in the South Platte Basin, as of April 1, rivaling that of 2011 — one of the best snowpack years on record (although a sizeable chunk of that year’s historic snowpack came after April 1).

    As part of Wednesday’s meeting, C-BT shareholders and the public — about 225 people altogether — provided input as to what they think the quota should be set at this week. While good snowpack typically calls for a low C-BT quota (the C-BT was built to serve as a supplemental supply, with high quotas usually set in dry years, Northern Water officials stress) the majority of input from the crowd called for the typical 70 percent quota. Agricultural users said that while there’s plenty of snowmelt expected to fill their irrigation ditches this spring, they’d still like to see a higher quota set to make sure water is still available later on — especially if things turn dry in the middle of the growing season, in July or August.

    Water officials from the city of Fort Collins and other communities also asked for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday — not to meet their own needs, but because they’re getting a lot of inquiries from farmers in the region wanting to rent extra water this year. A number of city officials said in recent days they’re waiting to see where the quota is set before deciding how much water they’ll have to lease to farmers this year. Most cities leased little or no water to ag users last year, forcing some farmers to cut back on how much they planted.

    A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

    While cities and ag users were seeing eye-to-eye at this year’s water users meeting, it was a different story in 2013. Last year, farmers wanted a quota of 70 percent, stressing that with little snowpack in the mountains at the time, they would need the supplemental C-BT water to get them though the growing season. But cities, for the most part, wanted the quota set at 50-60 percent, worried about using too much water in storage last year, because of the shortages and uncertainty.

    A 10 percent difference in the C-BT water quota amounts to about 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    2014 Most Endangered Rivers from AmericanRivers.org #ColoradoRiver

    April 9, 2014
    American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers

    American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers

    Click here to go to the American Rivers website to view the list:

    1. San Joaquin River

    Outdated water management and excessive diversions leave the river dry in stretches, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of drought.

    2. Upper Colorado River

    The river’s health, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and recreation are threatened by new proposed diversions and increasing water demands.

    3. Middle Mississippi River

    A proposed new levee would cut off the river from the floodplains that protects downstream communities from floodwaters and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

    4. Gila River

    An unnecessary water diversion and pipeline would harm fish and wildlife, river health, and local economics dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism.

    5. San Francisquito Creek

    The 65-foot Searsville Dam blocks threatened steelhead from reaching habitat upstream, impairs water quality, and poses flooding risks for local communities.

    6. South Fork Edisto River

    Excessive agriculture withdrawals threaten the river’s health and downstream water users, including other farmers.

    7. White River (Colorado)

    15,000 proposed new oil and gas wells in the region threaten to ruin clean drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat.

    8. White River (Washington)

    Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations are often killed at the unsafe and outdated Buckley Dam.

    9. Haw River

    Drinking water and recreation areas for more than one million people are threated by polluted runoff and wastewater.

    10. Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers

    The Wild and Scenic rivers’ cold-water fisheries, scenery, and whitewater are threatened by industrialization that would bring huge mega-loads bound for Canadian tar sands onto narrow roads beside the rivers.

    From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

    The San Joaquin River in central California — one of the sources of San Francisco’s drinking water and an agricultural resource for the fertile San Joaquin Valley — is the nation’s “most endangered river,” according to a report from American Rivers…

    Other rivers on this year’s list include the Upper Colorado River system in Colorado; a stretch of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky; the Gila River in New Mexico and the San Francisquito Creek in California.

    Rounding out the Top 10 are the South Fork Edisto River in South Carolina; the White River in Colorado; the White River in Washington; the Haw River in North Carolina; and the Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers in Idaho.

    The list is not a series of the “worst” or most polluted rivers.

    Three factors govern the rivers’ selections, according to Irvin: “One is the significance of the river for human and natural communities,” he says. “The second is the magnitude of the threat for a particular river, while the third is a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year.”

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    The Upper Colorado’s primary threat is new transmountain diversions as the state’s metro population continues to grow.

    “Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers farther away, like the Yampa and Gunnison rivers — rivers not yet impaired by transmountain diversions,” the American Rivers report said…

    “The ‘America’s Most Endangered Rivers’ report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubeck of American Rivers in a press release. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin.”

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    A new list names the Upper Colorado River basin the second most endangered stretch of water in the country. The conservation group American Rivers released its annual “top-10” list Wednesday and local rivers like the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan are part of basin that’s threatened…

    Neubecker says Front Range communities are desperately looking for new water supplies and that could come from the upper Colorado and its tributaries. He says the listing raises public awareness.

    “There are an awful lot of people, especially on the Front Range, who have no idea where their water comes from. It’s getting better than it used to be. But, there are still a lot of people who don’t understand that every time they run their faucet, they’re draining the Colorado River system.”

    One other river in the state made the list: the White River in northwestern Colorado. According to the list, it’s main threat is oil and gas drilling.


    Aspinall Unit update: The Uncompahgre Water Users are calling for water #ColoradoRiver

    April 8, 2014
    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning Tuesday, April 8th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 750 cfs to 850 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 400 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.


    The latest newsletter (The Current) from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

    April 8, 2014
    Eagle River Basin

    Eagle River Basin

    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here.


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