#ColoradoRiver pulse flow — one year later

April 16, 2015
Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

Colorado River pulse flow (Minute 319) reaches the Sea of Cortez for the first time since 1998 on May 15, 2014 via the Sonoran Institute

From Arizona Public Media (Vanessa Barchfield):

One year ago the governments of the U.S. and Mexico worked together on a historic project to send water down the parched Colorado River Delta in Mexico…

University of Arizona geoscientist Karl Flessa said Tuesday that the eight-week flooding helped to germinate and establish cottonwoods and willows that will live for up to 50 years, demonstrating that even a small amount of water can have long-lasting effects on an ecosystem.

But, Flessa said, the impact of the water varied.

“In some places the pulse flow did enormous amount of good work in establishing vegetation and sustaining that vegetation. In other parts of the river it didn’t really make that much of a difference,” he said.

He and his team are studying why that was the case.

“So we’re really trying to map out the river and identify those prime restoration sites.”
Future efforts will be targeted in those conservation sites that responded best to the returned flow of water.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Trial opens on Walker’s SDS costs — The Pueblo Chieftain

April 15, 2015
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A contentious jury trial over the value of easements for the Southern Delivery System pipeline crossing Walker Ranches opened Monday in District Judge Jill Mattoon’s courtroom.

Colorado Springs Utilities offered about $100,000 for the easements, and has paid rancher Gary Walker $720,000 for moving cattle to alternate grazing pastures. Walker claims the value of SDS impacts on his land are $25 million, according to court documents. The 66-inch diameter pipeline has a 50-foot permanent easement and 100-foot temporary easement across 5.5 miles of Walker Ranches.

The total length of the SDS pipeline from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs is about 50 miles.

Walker spent about eight hours on the stand Monday and Tuesday testifying about the impact SDS has had on his cattle, violating existing conservation easements, introducing toxic materials and invasive species and other issues he has experienced since Colorado Springs constructed the underground pipeline in 2011. Water from the pipeline scar flooded other areas of the ranches and contributed to erosion, Walker said.

Walker stressed throughout that he does not believe he has been treated fairly in his dealings with Colorado Springs.

“After dealing with Colorado Springs since 2011, I’m worried about anything that occurs between you and I,” Walker pointedly told Colorado Springs attorneys during a testy cross-examination.

Colorado Springs in February won an appeal to the state Supreme Court to overturn a $500,000 judgment for court costs awarded by retired District Judge Victor Reyes in December. Walker had claimed Colorado Springs delayed the trial while he accrued costs for expert witnesses.

Colorado Springs is questioning Walker’s basis for damages, claiming conservation easements do not affect the parcels where the pipeline was built and that Pueblo County’s 1041 permit is an agreement between Colorado Springs and Pueblo County, not individual landowners. One of the conditions of the 1041 permit states that landowners should not have out of pocket expenses because of real estate transactions related to SDS.

Because of the large volume of documents in the case, the trial is expected to take about two weeks.

More Southern Delivery System coverage here.


Aspinall Unit operations update: Current forecast for inflow into Blue Mesa = 71% of avg

April 15, 2015

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Blue Mesa Reservoir


From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

Releases from Crystal Dam will be increased from 1050 cfs to 1150 cfs on Wednesday, April 15th at 9:00 AM. This release increase is in response to an increase in diversion to the Gunnison Tunnel. The current forecast for April-July unregulated inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir is 480,000 acre-feet which is 71% of average.

Flows in the lower Gunnison River are currently above the baseflow target of 1050 cfs. River flows are expected to stay above the baseflow target for the foreseeable future.

Pursuant to the Aspinall Unit Operations Record of Decision (ROD), the baseflow target in the lower Gunnison River, as measured at the Whitewater gage, is 1050 cfs for April.

Currently, diversions into the Gunnison Tunnel are 700 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon are around 350 cfs. After this release change Gunnison Tunnel diversions will be around 800 cfs and flows in the Gunnison River through the Black Canyon should be around 350 cfs. Current flow information is obtained from provisional data that may undergo revision subsequent to review.


Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

April 15, 2015

Upper Colorado River Basin March 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center

Upper Colorado River Basin March 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center


Click here to read the current assessment from NIDIS. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Colorado Supreme Court upholds San Miguel River instream flows — Telluride Daily Planet

April 15, 2015

From the Telluride Daily Planet (Mary Slosson):

The CWCB initially decided in 2011 to protect a 17-mile stretch of the San Miguel River stretching from Calamity Draw down to the confluence with the Dolores River in order to prevent water levels from dropping too low for three fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and the roundtail chub — to survive and thrive.

All three are classified by the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Division as sensitive species, with human water diversion listed as the main reason for their precarious situation.

“Fundamentally what this case is about is that environmental water rights are going to be treated just the same as other water rights,” said Rob Harris, a staff attorney for conservation group Western Resource Advocates, which filed a supporting brief in the case.

“It’s a model for the West to follow on how to provide that local voice while also creating concrete, substantive protections that keep water in rivers for generations to come,” Harris continued…

Officials at the Bureau of Land Management and the Colorado Department of Wildlife requested the instream flow protections in 2008. A district water board upheld the 2011 CWCB vote and that was that, until the Farmers Water Development Company objected. The group said that the CWCB’s actions were quasi-judicial in practice and in violation of the Constitution.

The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed and, in a decision authored by Justice Allison H. Eid, upheld the water board decision by affirming that the CWCB was acting in a quasi-legislative capacity granted it by the state legislature.

“We’re very, very pleased with the ruling,” said Linda Bassi, the chief of the CWCB Stream and Lake Protection Section. “It was an important decision for our agency.”

State lawmakers empowered the CWCB in 1973 to use instream flow water rights to protect the environment of streams, rivers and lakes in order to assist imperiled fish and other species and to protect nearby vegetation.

“It’s a big deal for us because the court affirmed that the process my board uses is correct,” Bassi added. “It strengthens our whole program.”

The Colorado high court’s ruling is particularly important for the board in 2015, as several of its proposed instream flow protections have already been challenged. One of the sections in question is along the Dolores River in Montrose and Mesa Counties.

More San Miguel River watershed coverage here.


Northern Water bumps up quota to 70% for the season due to record storage

April 15, 2015

Here’s the release from the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (Brian Werner):

Northern Water’s Board increased the Colorado-Big Thompson Project quota allocation to 70 percent today. With C-BT Project storage at an all-time high for April 1, local storage reservoirs above normal and with mountain snowpacks declining, the Board chose to make available an average supplemental quota for 2015.

The approval increased available C-BT water supplies by 20 percent, or 62,000 acre feet, from the initial 50 percent quota made available in November.

The Board considered input from farmers and municipal water providers, demonstrating the varying demands and complex circumstances directors must consider when setting the quota. C-BT supplements other sources of water for 33 cities and towns, 120 agricultural irrigation companies, various industries and other water users within Northern Water’s 1.6 million-acre service area.

Directors carefully considered streamflow forecasts, which have declined since the beginning of March to below average in all C-BT related watersheds. Snowpack in watersheds contributing to C-BT inflow have gone from above average on March 1 to approximately 15 percent below average in April. In addition, March precipitation throughout Northern Water’s boundaries was just 21 percent of average.

Directors also took into consideration the drought throughout much of the American West and the potential for a dry spring or summer. Board Vice-President Kenton Brunner emphasized, “The Board always has the option to increase the quota in future months if conditions warrant.”

“We’re in good shape storage-wise and better prepared to have a down snowpack year than in many other years,” said Andy Pineda, Water Resources Department Manager. “The weather changes from year-to-year and we never know how much precipitation the mountains will receive, so having storage reservoirs this full is very beneficial for water users.”

Directors based their decision on the need for supplemental water for the coming year, while balancing project operations and maintaining water in storage for future dry years.

To learn more about Northern Water and the C-BT quota, visit http://www.northernwater.org.

More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


San Miguel
 water rights 
are upheld
 — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

April 9, 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling this week that upheld an instream flow water right in the San Miguel River in Montrose County also is being praised as an important one for the state’s instream flow program as a whole.

The court Monday ruled in favor of the Colorado Water Conservation Board in connection with its process for pursuing the water right for a 17-mile reach of the river. The board sought the right at the urging of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and what is now Colorado Parks and Wildlife to preserve habitat for three sensitive fish species — the flannelmouth sucker, bluehead sucker and roundtail chub — and for “globally imperiled riparian communities.” A water court approved an instream flow protection of up to 325 cubic feet per second.

The Farmers Water Development Company had argued to the Supreme Court that the 
CWCB’s action was quasi-judicial, and as a result its notice and comment period failed to follow procedural due process. The high court found instead that the instream flow process is a quasi-legislative one that “concerns the rights of the people of Colorado, with a prospective policy focus on protecting the environment.”

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Allison H. Eid, said the legislature vested the CWCB with the exclusive authority to appropriate instream flows on behalf of state residents, and such an action is a policy determination within the agency’s discretion. The opinion also pointed out that the agency doesn’t decree instream flow rights, but decides whether to seek such a right from water court.

The Western Resource Advocates conservation group, which was a party to the case, called the ruling a landmark decision that will have a bearing on other instream flow applications by the CWCB.

“This is more than just a technicality. It’s about the very nature and strength of the instream flow program,” said WRA staff attorney Rob Harris.

CWCB director James Eklund said the decision affirms the agency’s instream flow program process. Had the court determined that the process is quasi-judicial, the agency would have to follow rigidly spelled-out proceedings involving legal pleadings and procedures, rather than its current system involving a hearing process involving a board, he said.

“Our board gets to ask the kind of questions they want to ask. There’s not as much in the way of getting them to the meat of the issue,” Eklund said. A quasi-judicial process would be more difficult for the agency to follow, he said.

Christopher Cummins, the attorney representing Farmers Water Development Co., could not be reached for comment.

Eklund said the ruling is important because the instream flow program “is the most robust tool that we have as a state to protect streamflows for the environment.”

“It does double duty for us,” he said, because it also protects flows at the state or local level, as opposed to the federal government doing so through Wild and Scenic River designations.

Western Resource Advocates said that, if not for instream flow protections, the fish to be protected in the San Miguel River might require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Instream flow rights are nonconsumptive, aimed at maintaining minimum flows between points on a stream, or certain levels in natural lakes. According to the 
CWCB, since 1973 it has appropriated instream rights on more than 1,500 stream segments covering more than 8,500 miles of stream, and 477 lakes.

Eklund said the court ruling provides certainty to everyone involved in the instream flow rights process, including opponents to proposals. “You want to know the rules of the game when you get into it and this opinion helps provide some clarity on that,” he said.

Harris said the ruling will have some bearing on some big fights coming up this year on instream flow proposals, including one that ExxonMobil is challenging involving Yellow Creek in Rio Blanco County.

He noted that when it comes to allocation of water, instream flow rights are junior to rights already in existence before they were decreed. But he said some entities are seeking “carve-outs” that would give priority over instream rights to other water uses that haven’t even been come up with yet, and he objects to making instream rights second-class rights.

“Water rights for instream flows, they deserve a seat at the table like any other water right,” he said.

More water law coverage here.


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