Fixing ‘moving’ dam near Kremmling could cost $15M — Aspen Journalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upstream side of Ritschard Dam, which forms Wolford Reservoir
Upstream side of Ritschard Dam, which forms Wolford Reservoir

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

It could cost $15 million to dig up and recompact the rocks on the downstream side of the dam that creates Wolford Reservoir, north of Kremmling, in order to stop the dam from moving slightly, but steadily.

“It is a pretty significant surgery of the dam,” John Currier, chief engineer at the Colorado River District, told the district board July 22 during a presentation.

Ritschard Dam was built for the river district in 1995 by D.H. Blattner and Sons of Minnesota for $42 million. The dam is 122 feet tall and 1,910 feet wide.

The $15 million estimate to rehabilitate the dam includes a 35 percent contingency factor and is still preliminary, Currier stressed.

The project would include removing the top 25 feet of the dam and then stepping down the downstream face of the dam in layers to get to three “bad acting” zones of poorly compacted rock, some of which are 90 feet inside the dam.

“At some point that movement will compromise the ability of the core of the dam to hold back the water,” Currier said.

Currier said there are “no near-term safety concerns” regarding the dam’s current ability to hold back 66,000 acre-feet of water from Muddy Creek, which flows into the upper Colorado River east of Gore Canyon.

“We’re not in any crisis,” Currier said. “We’re just ready to move this forward.”

Engineers with the district noticed in 2008 that the dam had settled vertically by a foot-and-half instead of just 1 foot, as expected.

The dam has now settled 2 feet, at the rate of about an inch a year. And it has also moved horizontally, by about 8 inches, at a spot 40 to 50 feet below the crest of the dam.

The dam’s impermeable clay core is held in place by rock shells on both the upstream and downstream sides of the dam.

A detail of the rock outer shell on the downstream side of Ritschard Dam
A detail of the rock outer shell on the downstream side of Ritschard Dam

Trouble at some point

The upstream rock shell appears to have settled appropriately in place, perhaps because of varying degrees of water pressure on its face as reservoir levels have fluctuated.

But the downstream shell is still moving.

“At some point that movement will compromise the ability of the core of the dam to hold back the water,” Currier said.

Currier said construction-sequence photos indicate the movement appears to be related to how fill material above and below haul roads was compacted during construction.

The plan is to dig into sections of the shell, remove the poorly compacted rock, and then recompact those zones, mainly using the same rocks.

“The bad-acting layers may be more a function of how the material was placed, not the material itself,” Currier said.

Currier said a consulting engineer at the firm of AECOM had observed that the construction work is essentially “just a big dirt job,” albeit one that will require complicated sequencing and careful on-site supervision by experienced engineers.

Over the last six years staff and consulting engineers have taken a variety of steps to investigate the situation at Ritschard Dam.

A graphic of the issues at Ritschard Dam from the Colorado River District
A graphic of the issues at Ritschard Dam from the Colorado River District

$1.5 million spent

They’ve installed inclinometers, established an expert review panel, developed modeling and conducted lab tests on the core material to establish that the dam did not present an immediate safety problem.

The river district has now spent close to $1.5 million on instrumentation and analysis, Currier said, and recent work on a range of alternatives has given engineers enough information to move from the “what” stage to the “how” stage.

“We have a very good understanding of what solutions might, or might not work, and thus we can we have a great deal more confidence in our solution,” Currier said. “We’re confident that structural rehab is required.”

Currier said that simply storing less water in order to take pressure off the dam won’t solve the long-term problem.

In a memo to the board, Currier wrote “operating at reduced levels slows the deformation rate but does not stop the deformation.”

The river district has been operating the reservoir at 10 feet below normal levels since 2014 as a standard precautionary measure.

Another option looked at was installing a series of concrete columns down through the downstream shell of the dam in order to stiffen it, but Currier said it was ruled out due to higher costs and doubts about its effectiveness.

There is also the opportunity to increase the amount of water the reservoir can hold by increasing the height of the existing spillway, but Currier advised it was better to first just fix the dam to avoid a “permitting quagmire” by trying to also expand the reservoir’s capacity.

Water in the dam would likely have to be lowered or completely drained during the project in order to take enough pressure off the dam. Those lower water levels could cause ripples in regional water-supply operations, especially in a dry year.

But Dan Birch, the district’s assistant general manager, said water-supply concerns would not be the tail that wags the dog of the rehabilitation project and related safety concerns.

However, it was also noted that the project would take 220 days over two construction seasons and would likely have an affect on four years of water operations in all.

“It could have some impact on water operations for one year pre- and one year post-construction,” Currier said.

Currier and other engineers plan on continuing their analysis of the proposed solution, including meeting with the state dam safety engineer in August and continuing to ask a panel of experts to peer review the plans.

A refined proposal will be presented to the River District board in September as part of the district’s annual budget meetings.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Post Independent published this story on July 27, 2015.

Aurora: “We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording” — Joe Stibrich


From The Aurora Sentinel (Rachel Sapin):

“We have more water in our system than we’ve ever had since we’ve been recording,” Aurora Water Resources Management Advisor Joe Stibrich told congressional aides, city council members, city staff and Aurora residents on a tour of the city’s vast water distribution system last week. “We hit 99 percent of our storage capacity about a week ago.”

In total, Aurora Water has more than 156,000 acre-feet of water storage, which could supply the city with years of emergency supply in case of a drought.

The city gets water from three river basins. Half of the city’s water comes from the South Platte River Basin, a quarter comes from the snow melt flows from Colorado River Basin, and a quarter from the Arkansas River Basin.

But Aurora was not always a municipal water powerhouse.

In 2003, Aurora’s water supply level was at 26 percent capacity, the lowest in the city’s history. The idea for the at-the-time innovative Prairie Waters Project came about in the wake of that severe drought.

The $653-million Prairie Waters Project increased Aurora’s water supply by 20 percent when it was completed, and today provides the city with an additional 3.3 billion gallons of water per year.

The entire system pumps water from wells near Brighton, where it’s then piped into a man-made basin and filtered through sand and gravel. From there, the water is then piped 34 miles through three pumping stations to the Binney Water Purification Facility near Aurora Reservoir, where it’s softened and exposed to high-intensity ultraviolet light. The water is then filtered through coal to remove remaining impurities.

“It’s the crown jewel of our system,” said Stibrich during the tour. “Prairie Waters almost creates a fourth basin for us.”

But even before Prairie Waters, the first “crown jewel” project that allowed Aurora to grow and become the state’s third-largest city, was the one that allowed Aurora to cut most of its water ties with Denver.

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1960s, Aurora relied on the Denver Water Board for its supply. But the partnership between the neighboring cities grew contentious when, in the 1950s, Denver Water imposed lawn watering restrictions on a booming metropolitan area. Part of those restrictions included a “blue line” that prevented some Aurora suburbs from getting permits for new tap water fees.

In 1958, Aurora partnered with Colorado Springs to construct the Homestake Project, located in southern Eagle County in the Colorado River basin. The project was designed to use water rights purchased on the Western Slope that could supply the two cities.

For nearly a decade after the project was conceived, it was mired in legal battles with Denver and Western Slope entities. The first phase of the dam wasn’t even completed until 1967. In the 1980s, Aurora and Colorado Springs unsuccessfully attempted to expand the water collection system within the Holy Cross Wilderness area as part of a phase two plan.

The issue to this day is divisive, said Diane Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District during the city’s tour of the reservoir.

“For people to think we might be having some other dam up here and impacting their access to wilderness is an emotional issue,” she said.

It was a memorandum of understanding created in 1998 between Eagle County and the two Front Range cities that identifies 30,000 acre-feet of water in the Eagle River basin to be divided into thirds between the three entities that helped alleviate tensions and put the project back on track.

Today Homestake Reservoir provides Aurora with 25 percent of its water, and Aurora Water officials are looking at various ways to expand their storage to satisfy the Eagle River MOU.

One idea is a small reservoir in the Homestake Valley near the Blodgett Campground. Aurora Water officials said the issue with that plan is having to relocate the winding Homestake Road to a portion of the Holy Cross wilderness to accommodate it. Another alternative, which Aurora Water officials said they prefer, is to create a holding facility called a forebay, in the same valley, along Whitney Creek, that would hold water pumped back from a former World War II military site known as Camp Hale. From the holding facility, water could be further pumped up the valley to Homestake Reservoir.

Aurora Water officials are still working through the various politics of the alternatives, and repeatedly emphasized during the tour that there is no “silver bullet’ when it comes to water storage.

From Homestake, water travels east through the Continental Divide and tunnel where it’s sent to Turquoise Lake, then to Twin Lakes Reservoir near Leadville.

Aurora only owns the rights to a limited amount of storage in Twin Lakes, and that water has to be continuously lifted 750 feet via the Otero Pump Station to enter a 66-inch pipeline that leads to the Front Range.

The Otero Pump station — located on the Arkansas River about eight miles northwest of Buena Vista — is another impressive facet of Aurora’s vast water system, and the last stop on Aurora’s water journey before it is delivered to the Spinney Mountain Reservoir in South Park. With the ability to pump 118 million gallons per day, Otero provides half of Aurora’s and 70 percent of Colorado Springs’ drinking water, delivered from both the Colorado and Arkansas basins to the South Platte River Basin.

Tom Vidmar, who has served as the caretaker at Homestake for nearly 30 years and lives right next to the pump station, said the biggest issue facing Aurora’s water system is storage.

“We actually spilled water out of Homestake this year and didn’t collect (the) full amount we were eligible to take, simply because the reservoirs are at capacity,” Vidmar said during a tour of the massive pump facility. He said the electricity costs alone for Aurora to pump the water add up to around $450,000 a month.

A project Aurora Water officials hope to see come to fruition in 15 years is turning land the city purchased at Box Creek north of Twin Lakes in Lake County into additional storage space so water can be pumped more efficiently through Otero.

“Box Creek is an important project. It gives us more breathing room,” said Rich Vidmar, who is Tom Vidmar’s son and an engineer with Aurora Water, during the tour. “As we look at storage and where to develop storage, right now we’re looking at spots where we have chokepoints in our system where we’re not able to operate perfectly to get as much water as possible.”

Just as the state anticipates that its population of 5 million will double by 2050, so does Aurora — and storage will be key to providing water for a city that could potentially grow to more than 600,000 residents in the coming decades.

But the mountains aren’t the only place where Aurora hopes to expand its reservoirs. The city also is looking to expand Aurora Reservoir even further east.

At a July study session, Aurora Water Officials described a feasibility study being conducted to determine just how much water Aurora could store at a future reservoir, which would sit on the former Lowry Bombing and Gunnery Range.

More Aurora coverage here.

Colorado River System Conservation Program off to a good start #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

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

Water officials insist a pilot program designed to save Colorado River water and boost Lake Mead and Lake Powell is off to such a promising start that they are already looking to pour more money into it.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority is poised to chip in as much as $1.5 million on top of the $2 million it already committed to the Colorado River System Conservation Program, which was established last year among the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the water suppliers from the four largest communities served by the Colorado.

“I think it’s working very well. We were very pleased with the level of interest in the lower basin and the upper basin … and the diversity of the proposals,” said Colby Pellegrino, the authority’s Colorado River programs manager.

Pellegrino said the program has received about 20 proposals for conservation projects so far, more than a dozen of which came from the lower basin states of Nevada, Arizona and California. Negotiations are now underway on five of those projects — three in Arizona and two in California — to determine how much money they should receive and how much water they might save.

To date, the only project to receive final approval is one actually proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Pellegrino said the authority has agreed to leave 15,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead over the next two years instead of storing it for future use.

The water in question is being leased by the authority from water-right holders on the Virgin and Muddy rivers. In return for leaving that water in Mead and relinquishing any claim to it, the authority will be paid $2.25 million — or about $150 per acre-foot — out of the conservation program’s coffers to recoup its costs…

The Colorado River System Conservation Program’s interstate conservation program was originally seeded with $11 million — $3 million from the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that oversees the river and many of its dams, and $2 million each from the water authority, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water. The Bureau of Reclamation recently agreed to contribute another $3 million.

The money is being used to help cities, farms, factories and power plants pay for efficiency improvements and conservation measures that reduce their use of river water.

But unlike previous conservation collaborations on the Colorado, the water saved under this program is being left in the river to help bolster lakes Mead and Powell, its two largest reservoirs.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

The latest newsletter from the Water Center at CMU is hot off the presses #ColoradoRiver #COriver


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

COLORADO RIVER CLEAN-UP IN GJ

The Western Association to Enjoy Rivers (WATER) invites the public to participate in the annual cleanup of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley on August 8. For the event website, click here; for an article giving details and background on the event, click here.

From The Grand Junction Free Press (Bob Richardson):

It is time to think about the Summer Colorado River Cleanup on Saturday, August 8th 2015 in the Grand Valley. Find a boat, find a team and join the fun!

The Colorado River is an important part of the identity of Grand Junction as well as a contributor to the quality of life in Mesa County. With commercial outfitters, fishermen, locals and tourists all using the river, it is vital to keep it as pristine as possible.

This will be the 11th official river cleanup coordinated by the Western Association to Enjoy Rivers Club, but for many years prior to that, the WATER Club organized informal cleanups.

Are you compelled to participate in this year’s cleanup? There will be three crews cleaning the river from Corn Lake to the Loma boat launch. The first crew will put in at Corn Lake State Park and go to the Blue Heron boat ramp at the Redlands Parkway. The second crew will put in at Blue Heron and go to Fruita State Park. A third crew will put in at Fruita State Park and go to the Loma boat launch. If there is enough water in the river, a section may be added from Palisade to Corn Lake.

On August 8th, each crew will meet at their respective put-in at 9:00 A.M. and organize a shuttle. There will be dumpsters at each take out provided by the City of Grand Junction, Town of Fruita and the Bureau of Land Management. The WATER Club does not supply boats, so you will need a raft, canoe or kayak and a tarp to protect the boat. Also, a bucket for sharp items is useful. Participants should wear sturdy shoes that can get wet, gloves and wear a life jacket.

The WATER club will supply trash bags, State Park entry tags, and beautiful t-shirts funded by 5-2-1 Drainage Authority. Amec Foster Wheeler will provide an appreciation BBQ at Canyon View Park at the “handball shelter” at the southwest corner of the park at 5:00 P.M. Donated items from Cabelas, REI and Edgewater Brewery will be given away by raffle.

In the past we have found a lost dog, a hot tub and even a kitchen sink. So be prepared for an interesting day!

You can sign up for a section of river at Whitewater West (418 South 7th St.) 970-241-0441. You can also contact Bob Richardson at 970-261-5061 with questions.

While the river cleanup is currently the WATER Club’s main activity, the group has a long history of activities to help people enjoy rivers. The group was started in the early 1980s by a local sporting goods store when kayaking was first starting to get popular. When that shop closed, volunteers took over.

Projects included organizing the Westwater volunteer ranger program and working with public lands agencies to talk with local boaters about the paper permit system. Back in those days you couldn’t get information about permits on the web and the paper system was complicated, so they had meetings to educate folks about how to work their way through the system.

The WATER club was also instrumental in the proposal to try to get a whitewater park at the Price-Stubb dam near Palisade, which ultimately failed, and they helped organize against a major fee increase by Dinosaur National Monument because the fees wouldn’t have gone back to the river.

The WATER Club is currently organized by Dennis Adams and Bob Richardson.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

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

Upper Colorado River Basin  month to date precipitation July 1 through July 26, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation July 1 through July 26, 2015

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

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Reclamation Awards $37 Million Contract to Replace Glen Canyon Powerplant Transformers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Kerry Schwartz):

The Bureau of Reclamation today announced that it has awarded a $37 million contract to Yellowstone Electric Co. of Billings, Mont., to replace the 12 single-phase transformers and appurtenant equipment at Glen Canyon Powerplant that have reached the end of their service life.

“Reclamation is the nation’s second-largest producer of clean, renewable hydropower,” said Commissioner Estevan López. “We’re excited to award this contract and begin the work that will continue the performance of Glen Canyon Powerplant well into the future.”

Design, manufacture and installation work for the new transformers will take place between August 2017 and the spring of 2020. The project is a first for Reclamation, as it will be the first to use transformers of this size filled with natural ester oils derived from seed and nut oils as the insulating liquid rather than petroleum-based mineral oils typically used in most transformers. The sustainable, bio-based ester oils are safer because of the higher flash-point, which reduces the risk of fire, and they are environmentally beneficial because they disperse quickly in water and bio-degrade readily in oxygen and sunlight in the unlikely event of an oil spill.

“Bringing sustainable design to our powerplants is key to guaranteeing their length of service,” said Upper Colorado Regional Director, Brent Rhees. “It is important to our region and across Reclamation that we support green initiatives when and where we are able.”

Each of the transformers being replaced is original equipment that has been in service since the powerplant became operational in 1964. The plant’s eight generation units are connected to the transmission grid through these transformers that increase the voltage to allow the electrical power generated at the dam. The power is efficiently sent hundreds of miles to several communities throughout the southwest.

All powerplant maintenance and replacement activities are scheduled in full coordination with the Western Area Power Administration, which sells power to municipalities, rural electric cooperatives, Native American Tribes and government agencies in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming.

Glen Canyon Powerplant has a total capacity of 1,320 megawatts and annually produces approximately five billion kilowatt-hours of power to help sustain the electrical needs of about 5.8 million customers.

For more information about Glen Canyon Dam and Powerplant please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/rm/crsp/gc/index.html

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

Water Lines: May rains & cooperation benefit endangered fish — Hannah Holm #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

May rains not only greened up lawns and gardens across western Colorado, but also significantly increased runoff forecasts from Upper Colorado River Basin rivers and streams. The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center increased projections of inflows to Lake Powell from 3 million acre-feet forecast on May 1 to 5 million acre-feet forecast on June 1, up to about 70 percent of average. In the Colorado River’s headwaters, moisture accumulations for the year rose to “normal” and even above average in some locations.

That was good news on two fronts for the four species of endangered fish that dwell in the 15-mile stretch of the Colorado River between Palisade and the mouth of the Gunnison River: the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, boneytail and razorback sucker. In the short term, the fish are benefiting from coordinated releases from reservoirs upstream to maximize peak flows in this critical habitat area. In the longer term, the increased flows help keep Lake Powell above the level needed to keep generating hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam, which in turn generates revenue for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

High peak flows improve habitat by cleaning sediment out of gravels and connecting the river to its floodplain. As reported in the Summit Daily News on June 4, this was the first time in five years that reservoir releases were coordinated to benefit the fish. In the dry years of 2012 and 2013, not enough water was available to release extra water for the fish without compromising storage needed by water users. In 2011 and 2014, conditions were so wet that enhancing peak flows could have caused flooding.

Coordinated reservoir operations are just part of the Recovery Program, which also includes screens to keep the fish from getting stranded in irrigation canals; fish ladders to reconnect stretches of habitat; technological improvements to keep more water in the river while still maintaining deliveries to water users; raising fish in hatcheries; and managing populations of non-native fish that prey on the endangered species.

The recovery program, initiated in 1988, has a lot moving parts and a lot of partners. As stated on its website (http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org), the program is “a unique partnership of local, state, and federal agencies, water and power interests, and environmental groups working to recover endangered fish in the Upper Colorado River Basin while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts.”

The recovery program provides Endangered Species Act compliance for over 2,000 diverters, meaning that they don’t independently have to take action to protect & recover the fish.

In the Grand Valley, the recovery program has funded fish screens, which keep debris as well as fish out of irrigation canals, fish ladders, and a series of check structures in the Grand Valley Water Users Association canal. This enables full service to water users without having to divert as much “carry water” from the river to keep water levels high enough to reach headgates. Similar improvements are underway on the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District system.

According to Mark Harris and Kevin Conrad of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the technology installed through the recovery program has generally been a benefit to their system, and they would keep most of the upgrades even if the program ended — provided that the maintenance costs were not prohibitive.

The efforts to provide adequate base and peak flows for the fish also involve significant coordination and communication among the entities that divert water above the 15 Mile Reach and other stakeholders. Throughout the irrigation season, weekly conference calls are held to share information on the latest weather forecasts, reservoir levels, and irrigation needs. These calls aid in optimizing river flows to meet multiple needs, not only those of the endangered fish.

So how are the fish doing? According to the program’s 2015 Briefing Book, progress is being made with flow and habitat restoration measures, as well as stocking from hatcheries, but predation by nonnative fish is a growing problem. This has led to setbacks for the Colorado pikeminnow and Humpback chub in recent years, after having previously neared recovery goals. Northern pike, walleye and smallmouth bass are among the non-natives impeding recovery.

The boneytail was essentially absent from the wild when the recovery program was established. Survival rates for stocked boneytail are low, but appear to have improved since 2009. Razorback sucker stocking efforts appear to be more successful.

The goal of the program is to recover all four species to the point where they can be removed from the Endangered Species List by 2023.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to http://www.coloradomesa.edu/WaterCenter. You can also find the Water Center at http://www.Facebook.com/WaterCenter.CMU or http://www.Twitter.com/WaterCenterCMU.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.