#ColoradoRiver: “Killing the #Colorado” spotlights new solutions — American Rivers #COriver

killingthecoloradotrailerscreenshot

From American Rivers (Sinjin Eberle):

I have noticed a lot of chatter lately about the situation at Lake Mead. Dramatic overuse, prolonged drought, and the effects of increased temperatures have led to a historically low volume of water stored in the largest reservoir on the Colorado River. One of the most critical components of water in the west is less than 40% full. Yet while some people scramble for a quick fix or point fingers, others see the long game and note the optimism that working together for smart, sustainable solutions can bring. There is hope, there is a roadmap, and together we have the knowledge, skill, and foresight to make it happen.

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

The Discovery Channel recently produced a new documentary, Killing the Colorado, a made-for-TV version of the lengthy ProPublica series of the same name. The show is excellent, comprehensive, and features a number of voices that you may not expect to be featured in a film about the environment. Imperial valley agricultural producers, water managers, a red-state Senator and a blue-state Governor – all identifying problems facing the basin, and most putting forth an optimistic view that a human-caused predicament can be solved with human-inspired ingenuity.

One quote in particular is poignant – there is a scene with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper in his office flipping through a binder full of historic water compacts. Upon his observance of the generations of water agreements, he remarks “The thing you realize when you go through these [water] compacts, is that everyone is in this together.” Given the situation facing Lake Mead, a growing chorus of voices around Lake Powell, the birth of the Colorado Water Plan, and a recognition that heathy rivers support healthy agriculture and sustainable economies, we truly are all rowing the same boat together in the Colorado Basin.

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

But, how can Lake Mead affect Colorado from a thousand miles downstream? Well, due to the Colorado River Compact of 1922, headwaters states like Colorado must send a certain amount of water to the Southwestern states of Arizona, Nevada, and California – it’s the law of the river, and the law of the land. And since when the Compact was developed, California was a fast growing destination, it has priority and can “call” for water if needed. For years, California has had the luxury to get much of the surplus of water that Colorado and Wyoming have sent downstream to be stored in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. But now with prolonged drought, a fast-growing population across the entire Southwest, and a substantial agricultural economy (especially in the Imperial Valley), the era of surplus water is over. As such, Lake Mead is directly connected to Colorado, whether we like it or not, and that connection is the Colorado River.

Killing the Colorado does a fantastic job over nearly an hour-and-a-half of highlighting a variety of colorful characters who have recognized that shortage and a lack of water will change everything in the future – that future is now. But while both the show and the written article are excellent at highlighting the situation, they don’t delve deeply into what I think is most important – that real solutions do exist, and we know how to implement them, it simply takes our collective will to get them moving. Solutions like urban and agricultural conservation and efficiency, like reuse and recycling, like innovative water banking and flexible management practices, like continuing the shift towards renewable energy (solar and wind don’t devour cooling water like natural gas and coal plants require). But while these efforts all seem daunting and out of an individual’s control, there are actions that each of us can take every day that together, make a huge difference. Like buying and installing your own rain barrel for your outside plants and flowers, like supporting your local farmer at the farmer’s market – small things that have a great impact, especially when we all do them together.

Solutions do exist, and as Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said “The drought over the past couple of years has awakened all of us to the future we have if we don’t do better planning. There are many things that are out of our control…Planning is so important. Conserving. Recharging. Water banking. Water markets. These are all important things that have to take place.

Let’s get started!

The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” -- via The Mountain Town News
The Yampa River flows through the Carpenter Ranch. Photo courtesy of John Fielder from his new book, “Colorado’s Yampa River: Free Flowing & Wild from the Flat Tops to the Green.” — via The Mountain Town News

#AnimasRiver: #GoldKingMine Citizens’ Advisory Committee hears update — the Farmington Daily Times

Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)
Health and environmental officials in San Juan County are evaluating the Animas River after roughly 1 million gallons of mine waste water were released Wednesday. August 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy San Juan Basin Health Department)

From The Farmington Daily Times (Joshua Kellogg):

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee heard an update on the quality of the drinking water during its meeting today at San Juan College.

Stephanie Stringer, chief of the New Mexico Environment Department’s Drinking Water Bureau, gave a presentation to the committee on the status of public water systems in the Animas and San Juan watersheds.

The committee includes 11 volunteers who monitor efforts to document the long-term effects of the mine spill, which in August 2015 released more than 3 million gallons of towaste water with heavy metals into the Animas Rivers.

About 89,000 San Juan County residents’ water systems were affected by the mine when intakes were closed to protect treatment plants and water reservoirs, according to Stringer’s presentation. That figure does not include water systems on the Navajo Nation, which are not monitored by the state agency.

But in the year after the mine spill, the affected public water systems have remained in compliance with drinking water quality standards, Stringer said.

She said no metal contamination was found in any of the drinking water samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“With a couple of minor exceptions of failing infrastructure systems, the public water systems are doing their job, and the water is safe to drink,” Stringer said after the meeting.

While not related to the mine spill, poor infrastructure maintenance is behind the failing treatment systems of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems, Stringer said. Operated by the AV Water Co., the two systems serve nearly 7,000 residents in Crouch Mesa and areas outside Bloomfield. Those customers have been under a boil advisory since May 25 because of the failing treatment plants.

Drinking water from all other public water systems is safe for all uses, according to Stringer.

In her presentation, Stringer also detailed the bureau’s efforts to monitor the quality of the drinking water systems after the mine spill. Stringer said some public water systems are developing plans in case an emergency again threatens drinking water.

“We are encouraging all the public water systems to develop source water protection plans to ensure they know what to do in an event such as this,” Stringer said after the meeting.

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Nenahnezad Chapter house in Fruitland.

Agricultural drain replacement project a top priority for the Grand Valley Drainage District

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com
Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

It’s when storms break uphill that the Buthorn Drain becomes overwhelmed and the network of pipes turns from a pastoral conveyance to a pressurized system for which it was never designed.

“I’ve seen that manhole cover blow two feet off the ground,” said Bruce Palmer, who has lived for 51 years near the manhole cover on Walnut Court, through which the running water can be heard. “I’ve stood here in 9-inch engineer-type boots and the water was running over the top of those boots.”

The Buthorn Drain runs beneath the property of 50 or 60 residences, through a mobile-home park, beneath businesses and streets, and below — and through — a park.

It runs below Westlake Park downhill from West Middle School and then flows above and below a hill steep enough that concrete piles, or baffles, have been built in its path to slow floodwaters. Those same waters have dug beneath the baffles, reducing their ability to slow the floods.

The Grand Valley Drainage District made the Buthorn Drain its top priority and is expecting to spend $5 million on repairs and improvements to it, beginning with a close look at the system by Eric Krch of the engineering firm Souder Miller & Associates.

The first step in his study is to make sure that the drain still can handle its main job, then move into the question of whether it could handle a [1% probability flood].

It almost surely will not. Work already done has shown the system to be “severely undersized” for the 922-acre watershed served by the Buthorn Drain.

From there, Krch will draw up one or more solutions he’ll propose to the drainage district…

Businesses, local governments and other property owners, including churches and nonprofits, are charged $3 a month for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — those roofs, driveways, parking lots and so on. The district also has a $500 per 2,500 feet of impervious surface fee on new construction.

In all, the charges are expected to generate $2.7 million this year.

The fees, however, have earned the ire of Mesa County and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which have challenged them in Mesa County District Court, contending that they amount to a tax that was imposed without a vote as required by the Colorado Constitution.

A judge, however, has ruled in denying a preliminary injunction that the charges are fees and not subject to the voter-approval requirement of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

A full hearing on the matter remains to be scheduled — attorneys next week are to set a schedule — even as the district is moving ahead with the Buthorn Drain by hiring Souder Miller & Associates.

County and chamber officials say they don’t question the need for improvements such as those contemplated for the Buthorn Drain, but say they prefer to tackle drainage issues — and there are plenty — on a larger scale, using the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority.

The authority encompasses an area 10 times larger than that of the district. It takes in lands north of the river that are outside the boundaries of the drainage district, as well as land south of the river.

The county also questions the leadership of the drainage district, characterizing the three-member board as self-perpetuating.

The election of Cody Davis to the drainage district board this year was the first contest in decades.

All of those issues are beside the point for Ryan, who contends that the drainage district board is dealing properly with issues inside district boundaries, which happen to include much of the most heavily populated parts of the county, as well as much of its commercial and industrial base.

Dealing with the Buthorn Drain means dealing with “a major public health hazard,” Krch said.

When the drain is overfilled by stormwater, Krch said, “People have suffered significant damages to their possessions, there has been loss of property and I don’t know how many accidents occurred on flooded streets.”

Uncompahgre Valley Water Forum Sept. 1 — The Montrose Press

Uncompahgre River Valley looking south
Uncompahgre River Valley looking south

From The Montrose Press:

John Stulp, special advisor to the Governor and director of the Inter Basin Compact Committee for the State of Colorado, will speak at the Uncompahgre Valley Water Forum Sept. 1.

The event will be held at the Montrose County Fairgrounds in Friendship Hall 6:30-9 p.m. Stulp’s presentation will be focused on what the State Water Plan says about agricultural water.

He will address the extent to which everyone is a recipient of the benefits that ag. water provides – not just the foods and fibers grown and raised that require water, but also important community amenities, like city parks, soccer fields and cemeteries which often depend on ag. water to keep grass growing and green.

Shavano Conservation District is hosting the Uncompahgre Valley Water Forum to create a medium for landowners to be aware of ideas and views on local and state agricultural water.

Other speakers at the Forum include Marc Catlin, who is the Water Development coordinator for Montrose County, sits on the Colorado River Water Conservation Board,and also on the Gunnison Basin Roundtable.

Dick Wolfe, state engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources; Steve Anderson, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association; and MaryLou Smith from the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University, will also be on hand.

Those planning to attend should RSVP by Aug. 29 to either Bert at 970-249-8407, ext. 115, or by email to bertha.earle@co.nacdnet.net.

#ColoradoRiver: Lake Mead on the way to a shortage declaration in 2018? #COriver

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

From the Associated Press via The Denver Post:

A federal report shows the surface level of the lake behind Hoover Dam is expected to remain high enough this year to avoid a shortage declaration in 2017. But it’ll still be a mere 4 feet above a 1,075-foot elevation action point.

For 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation projects the lake level could fall short — by less than 1 foot.

That would trigger cuts in water deliveries that an official said would most affect Arizona farmers.

Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs chief for the Central Arizona Project, said cities and tribes wouldn’t immediately be affected.

But his agency, based in Phoenix, would enact plans to drain underground storage supplies and cut irrigation allocations by half.

“It’s good to know we won’t be in shortage in 2017,” Cullom said. “We’re hopeful we can again avoid shortage in 2018.”

Las Vegas, which draws 90 percent of its water from Lake Mead, might not feel much effect of a shortage declaration because conservation and reuse programs have in recent years cut the amount of water the area consumes by about 25 percent, Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman Bronson Mack said.

Still, conservationists said such a close call should be a wake-up to water-users.

“The good news is that we missed the trigger level. The bad news is that we missed it so narrowly and we remain dangerously close to automatic cuts,” said Nicole Gonzalez Patterson, Arizona director of the organization Protect the Flows.

“This is the loudest of wake-up signals for the region’s water managers,” she said…

Public water managers in Nevada, California and Arizona said they’ve been working together for years to avoid a shortage declaration.

They cite swaps and storage programs that have propped up the lake level, by at least temporarily reducing the amount of water drawn for use elsewhere.

John Entsminger, head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, pointed to one program that lets water agencies in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix pay water rights holders to conserve and reduce their water use.

Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Rose Davis said part of the reason that the lake level will be 4 feet above shortage this year is because agencies been working since 2014 to keep water in it.

“The partners have all been tested and no one’s had it easy,” she said. “But they’re keeping to their agreements and continuing to talk.”

[…]

A shortage declaration would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s promised 2.8 million acre-feet, and 4.3 percent of Nevada’s allotted 300,000 acre-feet…

Even if a shortage is declared, drought-stricken California will be able to draw its full 4.4 million acre-foot allocation of Colorado River water…

William Hasencamp, Colorado River resources chief for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said he thinks that in the end a shortage declaration is inevitable.

“It’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” said Hasencamp, whose agency serves nearly 19 million customers from Los Angeles to San Diego. “The fact that we’re not in shortage now is a testament to what we’ve been doing.”

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

#ColoradoRiver Basin #drought update

Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism
Lake Powell via Aspen Journalism

From The Guardian (Chris McGreal):

“Glen Canyon died in 1963,” wrote the renowned conservationist David Brower, who founded Friends of the Earth. “Neither you, nor I, nor anyone else knew it well enough to insist that at all costs it should endure. When we began to find out, it was too late.”

But Lake Powell, the US’s second largest reservoir, proved its own marvel. It draws about three million tourists a year to boat, swim and take days on the water, exploring the crevices and side canyons of a lake that stretches nearly 190 miles across the border between Utah and Arizona. The otherworldly landscape of monumental rock piles and soaring sandstone cliffs has provided the backdrop for scenes in Planet of the Apes and Gravity, and for episodes of Doctor Who.

After the dam was constructed at the southern tip of the canyon, the lake took more than a decade to fill with melting snow from the Rocky mountains flowing down the 1,450-mile Colorado river. That brought its own natural phenomenon.

What locals nickname the “bathtub ring” runs for most of Lake Powell’s 1,900-mile shoreline, which is half as long again as the US west coast. The ring of white calcium carbonate absorbed into the rock from the water contrasts sharply with the deep colours of the sandstone.

These days, it also provides a dramatically visible marker of the crisis facing the Colorado river after years of diminishing snowfalls on the Rockies.

Month by month, as water levels fall, more of the bathtub ring is exposed. Today, it towers 100ft or more above the boaters as what federal officials are describing as the worst drought in the Colorado Basin in a century diminishes a river that provides water to 40 million people in seven states. Lake Powell – a crucial cog in the machinery of water delivery – is at only 45% of capacity.

Hidden treasures
The falling water level has delivered up hidden treasures, the natural arches and narrow side canyons not seen in years. Perhaps the most spectacular is the Cathedral in the Desert, a multi-coloured sandstone arch forming a huge natural amphitheatre, with a waterfall lit by narrow beams of sunlight.

In parts of the lake, new islands have emerged and old ones have become towering sandstone pillars. Shores once underwater are now lined with new beaches while old ones, left high above the waterline, are bristling with plants.

As the water levels dropped, some of the boating arteries linking different parts of the lake could only be kept open by cutting through the rock.

Erin Janicki, an aquatic biologist, has watched the change from the water’s edge. The town of Page, Arizona was built to house workers constructing the dam that flooded Glen Canyon. Janicki lives in one of the original houses, a stone’s throw from the lake. For nine years, she has seen the water rise and fall, but says the overall trend is down.

“The water’s 110ft below the top of bathtub ring,” she said. “There are parts of the lake that have pretty much become mud flats. The inlets get silted up. It takes longer to jet around the lake because some of the waterways aren’t open and you have to go around obstacles.

“There’s still a lot of water out there, but there’s been a big change. People hit rock islands all the time.”

For Janicki, this has raised questions about the nature of development in arid regions.

“I don’t like seeing big developments in the desert,” she said. “These cities growing all the time. More people and less water. It doesn’t seem sustainable to me. Page has a golf course. Here, in the desert.”

The Colorado river serves Wyoming ranches, Arizona agricultural plantations and Nevada’s gambling mecca, Las Vegas. It is crucial to the California food industry and growing desert cities across the southwest.

What goes into Lake Powell is largely decided by how much snow falls on the Rockies in winter. But what comes out is governed by complex agreements made nearly a century ago, and adjusted over the years, which divvy up the river’s water between seven states.

CPW: Harvey Gap Reservoir to be drained for inspection of dam outlet, bag, possession and size limits removed for all species

Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.
Harvey Gap Reservoir via the Applegate Group.

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The Silt Water Conservancy District is announcing that they will need to drain Harvey Gap Reservoir to inspect the dam outlet structure. To save as many fish as possible, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has authorized an emergency fish salvage at the reservoir located north of Silt, effective immediately. Using conventional, legal tackle only, anglers are encouraged to catch and keep as many fish as they can, including tiger muskie, northern pike, channel catfish, black crappie, trout, yellow perch, bluegill, and largemouth and smallmouth bass…

According to the Silt Water Conservancy District, the reservoir will remain mostly empty until the dam is thoroughly inspected. Once the reservoir is permanently refilled, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will restock the popular fishery with approved species; however, when that will occur is undetermined.