Colorado Water Plan update #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

May 28, 2015
Steamboat Springs

Steamboat Springs

From the Craig Daily Press (Tom Ross):

“Overall, 10 million acre-feet of water rises in the mountains of Colorado, annually,” speaker Jay Gallagher told his audience. “The state’s population will grow to 8.5 or perhaps 9 million people over the next 50 years, but we’re facing a flat-lining water supply. And 40 million people are sustained by Colorado River water. It’s a big deal. It’s our lifeblood It’s a hard-working river.”

Gallagher is general manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District in Steamboat Springs, but also sits on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is charged with assembling an overall state water plan from reports submitted by river basins all over the state. He was joined by Jackie Brown, district manager of the Routt County Conservation District.

Brown serves on the Yampa/White/Green river basin roundtable, which will contribute its own goals for water management to the CWCB for consideration in the statewide plan.

The rain that fell Tuesday night in the midst of what has turned out to be the wettest month of May on record in Steamboat Springs (6.33 inches of rain compared to the normal 2.24 inches for the month) amounts to an asterisk in a 35-year water plan, and there is a sense of urgency in the process, according to the speakers…

The big water buffalo in the room, however, was the possibility that powerful Front Range water interests will succeed in influencing the water plan to include a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD) of water from Colorado’s Western Slope to the rapidly growing Eastern Slope.

It was State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush who put the possible implications of a new TMD for Western Colorado on the table. She serves on the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee that will review the new water plan at the legislature.

“The South Platte and Metro Roundtable has a TMD right up front (in its water plan). Their first solution (to closing the water supply gap) is a TMD. How do you see that playing out in an agreement?” she asked Gallagher.

He responded that the new water plan won’t represent policy, but instead, will set guiding principles for establishing new policies in the future.

A new TMD, “would still have to go through questions about ‘who does it benefit?’” Gallagher said. “And one of the tenets of water policy is ‘Do no harm.’”

Mary Brown, another member of the Yampa/White/Green Roundtable, added that intense negotiation is taking place among representatives of each basin in the state over seven criteria — playfully called the “Seven Points of Light” — that would frame decision making about any new TMD. One of the points being debated would require the developers of a new multi-billion TMD to assume ultimate hydrological risk. That implies the TMD would be junior to all other water rights on the river system. And that, in return, would raise significant questions about whether the diversion could be depended upon to support growth on the Front Range.

Brown and Gallagher agreed after the meeting that most Front Range water districts would prefer any other means of expanding water supply to a TMD. However, failure to put a TMD on the table would be politically unpalatable among their constituents.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


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

May 27, 2015
Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 1 thru May 24, 2015

Upper Colorado River Basin month to date precipitation May 1 thru May 24, 2015

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

#ColoradoRiver


West Salt Creek slide lake leaks, officials report — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

May 27, 2015
Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

Grand Mesa mudslide before and after via The Denver Post

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

A new watercourse springing from the West Salt Creek landslide has Mesa County officials saying they’re paying close attention to the change.

Tim Hayashi and Frank Kochevar Jr., respectively the senior engineer and survey supervisor for Mesa County, found the new stream as they visited the slide on Sunday, Hayashi said.

The discovery gave new urgency to the landslide study, Hayashi said.

“We’re at a point where Frank and I have gone from checking (on the slide) from once or twice a day to just about every hour,” Hayashi said. “And that’s ‘round the clock.”

The new stream rises about 75 feet above the base of the slump block — the large mass of mud, rock and debris still clinging to the side of Grand Mesa, Hayashi said.

Its appearance marks a “significant change” in the landslide and prompted heightened scrutiny of the slide according to an emergency action plan drawn up by the county for dealing with the slide. The plan accounts for three levels of response, of which the additional awareness is the first level.

There is no immediate threat to residents or to the town of Collbran, six miles to the northwest, Hayashi said.

Experts expected the stream to appear at some point, “it was just a matter of when,” Hayashi said.

The source of the stream is the lake, or sag pond, that has collected in the V-shaped area between the mesa and the slump block, Hayashi said.

“There is no other reasonable source of water” at this time, he said.

Access to the slide area remains restricted at the top by the U.S. Forest Service. No one is permitted within 300 yards of the edge of the slide because of its instability.

The rest of the slide sits on private property.

Cameras, monitors and other devices are in place to alert officials of any movement, including a monitor about 100 feet above the new stream.

Residents of the area are to be notified should conditions become hazardous, according to the county’s emergency plan.

Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey, Colorado Geological Survey, and Department of Parks and Wildlife are monitoring the slide, as are the county and Forest Service.

From The Denver Post (Anthony Cotton):

A Level One, under the Emergency Action Plan, means something has changed that requires a heightened level of awareness, the county said on its Facebook page. It does not mean citizens near the area face an extra safety risk.

The highest alert level is Level Three.

The appearance of a stream of water on the West Salt Creek landslide area above Collbran prompted the decision.

“We expected to see water-related changes in the landslide during spring runoff,” said Tim Hayashi, Senior Engineer for Mesa County. “But one of the looming questions has been, ‘What would the pond do?'”[…]

Mesa County’s emergency plan calls for immediate notification of the public when conditions become hazardous to citizens. Collbran residents have previously been briefed on the possibility of water spilling over the sag pond or finding a route down the debris area.


Nevada Supreme Court rejects Las Vegas water grab

May 26, 2015

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

ih Pipeline dreams stumble at Nevada Supreme Court.

Ruling marks another win for activist network opposing the massive groundwater pumping and pipeline plan

Staff Report

FRISCO — A bid by Las Vegas to drain groundwater from distant valleys took another hit this week, as the Nevada Supreme Court blocked the latest legal maneuver by the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Nevada State Engineer, who petitioned the court for writs of mandamus.

The ruling is a win for critics of the SNWA pipeline project, including White Pine County, the Great Basin Water Network and local Native American tribes, who say the plan will dry up springs and groundwater needed by local communities, as well as wildlife that relies on scarce sources of water in central and eastern Nevada.

View original 194 more words


Reclamation says it’s time to cut back on #ColoradoRiver use, others ask about storage #COWaterPlan

May 25, 2015

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015

Colorado River Basin including Mexico, USBR May 2015


From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Colorado River water users will have to get used to more water conservation, according to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report that was faulted in Colorado for failing to consider storage as a drought measure.

The report calls for several steps, including technology improvements and behavior change, to increase low-water landscapes, along with increased funding for environmental and recreational water-flow requirements and greater coordination of water and land planning.

“This report is reassuring proof that the Colorado River Basin report is not just another report sitting on a shelf. That report, along with the ongoing drought, is a call to action,” said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which participated in it.

If nothing is done, “In western Colorado and across the arid West, we could lose our farming and ranching heritage and its economic and environmental benefits if we don’t come together now to cooperatively address this extreme challenge,” Treese said.

The call falls short of the needs on the West Slope, said Ute Water Conservancy District General Manager Larry Clever, who called the recommendations the “same stuff” that has been discussed in other forums.

Missing is the recognition that storage is needed, Clever said.“If we want to work on drought, we are going to have to store water somewhere, and it would be nice to store it where it didn’t evaporate,” Clever said.

Colorado’s water plan in the making includes storage, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday before the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, who pointed to the potential of holding more water at high elevation by expanding existing impoundments.

Storage is “a big option” in the plan as it’s being drafted, said James Eklund, who heads the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is drafting the water plan.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Watching the mouth of the Roaring Fork River — Aspen Journalism

May 24, 2015

railroadbridgeoverroaringforkrivermay2015viaaspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentimes

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

As my raft floated under the railroad bridge at the confluence of the Roaring Fork and Colorado rivers last week, I was wondering just how much water would flow out of the Fork and into the Colorado this year.

Certainly less than average, given that the snowpack peaked in March and began melting off, I mused, taking a stroke to catch the big eddy that forms just shy of the mighty Colorado, where the Fork comes in across from Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs after draining 1,543 square miles of land.

Perhaps the wet and cold weather of late April and much of May will continue to forestall a sudden flash of melting snow, so what snow we still have in the high country will come off in a nice steady fashion.

But spinning around the eddy, I knew how easy it was, as a boater, to be wrong about water and weather. It is also, as it turns out, a tricky time of year for professional hydrologists to predict run-off, as data from low-elevation snow-measuring sites tapers off and daily weather conditions can play a big role in shaping how much water flows, and when it does.

In mid-March, which felt like summer already, a trip on the Green River starting April 12 seemed like a good bet this year to enjoy some warm weather. But a big storm swept in that week and blasted the river with freezing rain.

The same storm laid down 11 inches of snow on Aspen Mountain by Friday, April 17, making for a memorable closing weekend for some.

After warming up from that trip, I ventured optimistically out again during the first full week of May, this time on the Colorado River west of Loma. And I was soon engulfed in the downpours of May 5 and 6 that lead to river levels across the region jumping up.

Between May 5 and May 7, for example, the flow in the lower Fork doubled from a 1,000 cubic feet per second to over 2,000 cfs.

So when I went out on May 13 for my first trip of the season down the Roaring Fork from Carbondale to Glenwood, I wasn’t surprised that it started raining. It’s just been that kind of season so far — in fact, through May 19, total precipitation in the Roaring Fork River watershed was 204 percent, or double the normal amount of precipitation. according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

But the Fork was flowing that day at 1,110 cubic feet per second, which was enough water to have a perfectly nice float, especially as I did see some sun (and some red-wing blackbirds).

But will the river get much bigger this year, I wondered as I rowed toward Glenwood.

redcanyonfromroaringforkmay132015apenjournalimsjeremywallaceaspentimes

Below average flows

The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City forecast on May 19 that the Roaring Fork will most likely peak this year in mid- to late June at 4,300 cfs, as measured at Veltus Park, just above the Fork’s confluence with the Colorado.

That’s 73 percent of the Fork’s average annual peak of 5,920 cfs, which typically occurs between May 29 and June 23.

While this year’s likely peak flow of 4,300 cfs is certainly better than the lowest peak flow on record — 1,870 cfs on June 3, 2012 — it’s also way below the historic peak of 11,800 cfs on July 13 in 1995.

The forecast peak flow has increased given the cool and wet weather in May. So, if April showers bring May flowers, May showers are likely to bring better boating on the Fork in June.

“I would say it is very likely (the Roaring Fork) will see a below average peak flow this year,” said Brenda Alcorn, a senior hydrologist with the Forecast Center.

However, she added that what snowpack we do have “is in better shape than it was in 2002 and 2012, so I do not expect a record low peak.”

But just how much water comes, and when, is now weather dependent.

“Spring temperatures and precipitation play a significant role in the pattern of snowmelt runoff and consequently the magnitude of peak flows,” Alcorn said. “An extended period of much above normal temperatures or heavy rainfall during the melt period can cause higher than expected peaks, while cool weather can cause lower than expected peaks.”

On Friday, May 15, Julie Malingowsky, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the period to at least May 25 looked cooler and wetter than normal, and longer-range forecasts indicate that the next several months could be wetter than normal.

(Also, see the Intermountain West Climate Dashboard of indicators at Western Water Assessment)

But probably not wet enough make up for the skinny snowpack.

“Even though it has been a wet month, we are still drier than normal,” Malingowsky said.

confulenceroaringforkcrystalriver05132015aspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentime

Below average supply

Another view of this year’s water picture is available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s “Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report,” which was published on May 1.

The report shows that the “most likely” amount of water to reach the bottom of the Roaring Fork between April and the end of July is 450,000 acre-feet, according to Brian Domonkos, a data collection officer with NRCS.

That’s below the 30-year average of 690,000 acre-feet flowing down the Fork for the period from April to August. (The Roaring Fork delivers, on average, 871,100 acre-feet of water to the Colorado River over a full year, according to the Colorado Division of Water Resources).

The water-supply report said that current conditions point to “a below normal streamflow forecast picture for much of the state heading into spring and summer of 2015.”

However, Gus Goodbody, a forecast hydrologist with NRCS, said the amount of water expected to flow out of the Roaring Fork is likely to increase from the May 1 forecast by five to 10 percent, given May’s weather so far.

“It’s going to go up,” he said.

Another indicator of potential run-off is the measure of the “snow water equivalent” at SNOTEL measuring sites in the Roaring Fork basin.

The average from the eight SNOTEL sites in the Roaring Fork basin was 108 percent on May 19, but that’s without complete data from four of the sites.

That number — 108 percent — has been climbing steadily since May 1, but it’s not an indicator that the snowpack has been growing. What it does show is that the cool and wet weather has slowed the run-off and moved the data closer to the historic average — which, again, bodes well for June boating. But in addition to the snowpack and the weather, there are other factors that dictate the flows in the Fork at Glenwood Springs.

lookingupthecoloradoriverconfluenceroaringforkaspenjournalismjeremywallaceaspentimes

Off the top

An average of 40,600 acre-feet of water a year is collected from the upper Roaring Fork River basin and sent through a tunnel under Independence Pass and into Twin Lakes Reservoir, destined for Aurora, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and Pueblo West.

The Twin Lakes diversion takes 40 percent of the water out of the upper Roaring Fork basin above Aspen, according to the 2012 Roaring Fork Watershed Plan.

Another 61,500 acre-feet is collected on average each year from tributaries of the upper Fryingpan River and sent east through the Bousted and Busk tunnels. That accounts for 37 percent of the water in the upper Fryingpan headwaters.

As such, there are many days when there are rivers heading both east and west out of the Roaring Fork River watershed, and the ones heading east can often be bigger.

For example, on May 13, while I was floating on 1,110 cfs at the bottom of the Fork, there was 136 cfs of water running under the Continental Divide in the Twin Lakes — Independence Pass Tunnel, which can, and does, divert up to 625 cfs later in the runoff season.

And the Bousted Tunnel, which transports the water collected from the headwaters of the Fryingpan River, as well as Hunter and Midway creeks in the Roaring Fork basin, was diverting 101 cfs on May 13.

Meanwhile, the gauge on Stillwater Drive on May 14 showed the main stem of the Fork was flowing, just east of Aspen, at 111 cfs.

Then there is the water diverted out of the rivers in the basin and into one of the many irrigation ditches along the Fork, the Crystal and other streams in the basin.

Ken Ransford, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, estimates that the 12 biggest irrigation ditches on the Roaring Fork and Crystal rivers divert about 115,000 acre-feet of water a year.

Most of that water eventually finds its way back to the rivers, but the diversions also leave many stream reaches lower than they otherwise would be, and few tributaries are left untouched.

According to the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan, “flow-altered stream reaches include the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan, and Crystal rivers, as well as Hunter, Lincoln, Maroon, Castle, West Willow, Woody, Snowmass, Capitol, Collins, Sopris, Nettie, Thompson, Cattle, Fourmile, and Threemile creeks.”

Another factor shaping the flows in the lower Fork are decisions made by regional water managers, including irrigators near Grand Junction and municipal water providers in Denver, that can shape releases from reservoirs such as Green Mountain and Ruedi.

Who needs water, and when, can also dictate the size of that eddy at the bottom of the Fork. So for now, I’m just glad it’s big enough to float a boat.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Aspen Times Weekly, and The Glenwood Springs Post Independent on coverage of rivers and water. The Aspen Times Weekly published this story on Thursday, May 21, 2015.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.


“This May has really been a miracle in Colorado” — Eric Kuhn #ColoradoRiver

May 24, 2015
Colorado River at the Utah state line gage (USGS) April 1 thru May 24, 2015

Colorado River at the Utah state line gage (USGS) April 1 thru May 24, 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Seninel (Gary Harmon):

“This May has really been a miracle in Colorado,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Thursday at the Mesa County State of the Rivers discussion at the Avalon Theatre in Grand Junction.

Lake Powell could see 1 million to 1.5 million acre-feet of water flow in, Kuhn said, as a result of the storm system that has dropped sometimes heavy rains in the valleys of western Colorado and topped the peaks with fresh snow.

As of Thursday, Lake Powell was at an elevation of 3,593 feet, or about 100 feet above the level at which it can generate power. That 100 feet equates to approximately 7.8 million acre-feet of usable storage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Though snowpack was below average last winter, reservoirs that feed the Colorado River in Colorado are expected to fill, said Ryan Christianson, water-management group chief for the Grand Junction Bureau of Reclamation office, to about 100 people attending the meeting sponsored by the River District and the Colorado Mesa University Water Center.

Officials, however, are watching to see if they will have to boost flows from upper-basin reservoirs to mimic spring runoff levels that are important to the four endangered fish of the Colorado River, Christianson said.

Managers were able to save about 22,000 acre-feet in Blue Mesa Reservoir by holding back some water as flows rose in the North Fork of the Gunnison River, Christianson said.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


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