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.

CPW: Hermosa Creek native cutthroat restoration project moving along nicely

Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

The multi-year project to restore native Colorado River cutthroat trout to more than 20 miles of the Hermosa Creek watershed is continuing this summer. The project is a cooperative effort of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the largest native trout restoration project ever done in the state. The work is critical for bringing this species back to western Colorado.

Located about 30 miles north of Durango, wildlife biologists identified the Hermosa Creek area as a prime spot for restoration more than 20 years ago. The first project was completed on the upper East Fork of Hermosa Creek in 1992. Cutthroat trout now thrive in that section. A second part of the project was completed in 2013 on the main stem of Hermosa Creek above Hotel Draw; and the native trout are thriving in that section of water.

All the projects include construction of rock barriers that prevent non-native trout from migrating into the restored sections of stream. Agency officials hope that the entire project will be completed by 2018.

On Aug. 4-5, crews will apply an organic piscicide to a 2-mile long section of East Hermosa Creek below Sig Creek Falls to just above the confluence with the main stem of Hermosa Creek. The piscicide, Rotenone, will eliminate non-native fish species—primarily brook trout. Rotenone has been used for years throughout the world for aquatic management projects because it breaks down quickly in the environment and poses no threat to terrestrial wildlife or humans. CPW biologists also use a neutralizing agent just below the treatment area to prevent any fish kills downstream.

Short sections of Relay Creek and Sig Creek above will also be treated.

The work area will be closed to the public during the operation. An administrative campsite will be reserved for use by CPW and USFS employees during the treatment work. Signs are posted in the closed areas and the public is asked to observe the closure.

Visitors below the treatment area might see rust-colored water–-that is the color of the neutralizing agent. Anglers will still have full access to Hermosa Creek and the upper section of East Hermosa Creek. Any cutthroat trout caught must be returned to the water.

Because of the complexity of the habitat along the East Fork, the section will most likely be treated again next summer to assure elimination of non-native fish. If all goes as planned, native cutthroats will be stocked into the stream late next summer.

While the project is scheduled for the first week of August, project managers will be keeping an eye on the weather as recent rains have swelled the creeks in the area. If the water is running too high, the project could be delayed until next summer.

The Hermosa Creek project is one of the most important native cutthroat trout restoration endeavors in Colorado. After completion of the lower East Fork section, more work will be done in the coming years on the main branch of Hermosa Creek. The end-point of the effort will be just below the confluence of the East Fork and Hermosa Creek.

“This project is especially important because it connects several streams in a large, complex watershed,” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in the Four Corners area. “The connectivity provides what biologists call ‘resiliency’ to the system. There are more stream miles available to the fish which allows for more genetic exchange. It also makes the fish less susceptible to disease and to large sedimentation events such as fires, mudslides or avalanches.”

Every year Colorado Parks and Wildlife deploys significant resources for native trout restoration efforts. Colorado’s native trout include: the Colorado River cutthroat trout; the Rio Grande cutthroat trout; and the Greenback cutthroat trout.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

Yampa River waters a hot commodity — Steamboat Today #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From Steamboat Today (Lauren Blair):

Both legislators and members from the Colorado Water Conservation Board appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper visited Craig on Wednesday to present information on the plan and listen to public input.

Northwest Coloradans have a major stake in the plan, which could allow for the eventual diversion of water from the Yampa River to the Eastern Slope to quench the thirsty lawns of a rapidly growing urban and suburban population.

Several local leaders from the water, agriculture and conservation arenas voiced their opposition to a trans-mountain diversion of Yampa waters.

“The state water plan has probably caused as much angst and apprehension as anything that’s happened in my lifetime,” said Ken Brenner, member of the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board of directors and also part of a third-generation ranch family in Routt County. “I am opposed to any new trans-mountain diversion. I don’t believe the water supply exists, and we are certainly having enough trouble meeting our compact obligations.”[…]

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District board, which includes Brenner and eight other members, issued a letter Wednesday to the CWCB asking for “an equitable apportionment of the native flow within the Yampa,” relative to native flows used by other basins in the state that empty into the Colorado River.

The concern is that, because Colorado is only allowed to use a certain portion of its river flows, and because Northwest Coloradans have junior water rights relative to regions that developed earlier, the state may limit local use of water in the Yampa/White/Green Basin in order to meet its obligations downstream.

State water planners are seeking public comments on the plan through Sept. 17. The legislative Water Resource Review Committee is also currently juggling how to weigh in on the plan. Committee-sponsored bills are due in October, two months prior to the deadline for the final water plan’s completion.

“As legislators, myself included, we feel very strongly that the water plan will only be successful if we have widespread public input,” said Committee Chair, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, District 6.

Roberts, who is one of a four-person Western Slope majority on the committee, hopes the visit to Craig and other locations will help better inform legislative water policy in the future.

“Getting them over here, driving our roads, seeing our forests and seeing that agriculture really is strong and viable. … They’re not necessarily aware of that if they live in the urban corridor,” Roberts said. “I think part of the value of the water plan … is to make urban dwellers more conscious of the tradeoffs that have occurred and that we live in a high altitude, arid environment.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Water bosses: Colorado will have enough water if managed right — Colorado Public Radio #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From Colorado Public Radio (Rachel Estabrook):

Even in the face of climate change and a growing population, Colorado can have enough water in the future. That’s according to three water managers from around the state. But abundance won’t happen by accident; the state will have to steward the water it has and plan its growth smartly.

Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water; Eric Hecox, executive director of the South Metro Water Supply Authority; and Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. They talked about the second draft of the state’s first water plan, which is available now. It will be finalized in December…

Jim Lochhead on the “action plan” included in the water plan’s second draft

“At this point I would characterize it as a compendium of ideas. It doesn’t set out priorities, it doesn’t set out timelines, it doesn’t set who will do what by when… For example, right now the plan speaks to municipalities saving 400,000 acre feet of water. I think that we need a statewide water efficiency goal that applies across the state, across all sectors. Whether it’s agriculture, industry or municipalities, we all need to be sharing in achieving greater efficiency. Right now it’s simply targeted at municipalities.”

Eric Kuhn on “the big issue” on the Colorado River

“Every drop of water today is used. Except for manmade exports of water that was saved in Mexico due to the accident of an earthquake, no water has gotten to the gulf of Baja California since 1999. So, if a city is going to use new water supplies from the Colorado River, somebody else in the Colorado River system is going to use less…

[But] look at some of the success stories in the Colorado River Basin. Las Vegas is serving 2.1 million today with two thirds of the water that they were using 10 years ago and serving 500,000 or 600,000 people less…

We have enough water in the system, even if climate change reduces our supplies. But we have to use it in a much smarter way.”

Eric Hecox on what South Metro communities have done to reduce water use

“We have historically had an over-reliance on non-renewable groundwater, which is essentially groundwater in wells. Our access to that water supply has been diminishing… for all intents and purposes, they’re drying up.

“[Out of necessity], our members have reduced collectively in the area water use by about 30 percent… We have two members, that are two of only a few in the state, that put individual customers on water budgets. We have a number of members that are paying current customers to transform their outdoor landscaping. We have members that are really pushing the boundaries of what they can do with new development, and giving significant incentives to new developers to put in place development that uses less water. In addition to that our members, for all intents and purposes, are reusing their supplies.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage <a href="

Transmountain diversion concepts discussed in Rifle — Aspen Journalism #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver #CORiver

Homestake Dam via Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the Eagle River. An agreement allows for more water to be developed as part of this transmountain diversion project.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

James Eklund, the director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, invoked his Western Slope heritage at a “Summit on the Colorado Water Plan” hosted Saturday in Rifle by the Garfield County commissioners.

“The mantra I grew up with in Plateau Valley was not one more drop of water will be moved from this side of the state to the other,” said Eklund, whose mother’s family has been ranching in the Plateau Creek valley near Collbran since the 1880s.

Eklund was speaking to a room of about 50 people, including representatives from 14 Western Slope counties, all of whom had been invited by the Garfield County commissioners for a four-hour meeting.

The commissioners’ stated goal for the meeting was to develop a unified voice from the Western Slope stating that “no more water” be diverted to the Front Range.

“That argument had been made, probably by my great-grandparents, my grandparents and my parents,” Eklund said. “And I know there are a lot of people who still want to make that argument today, and I get that. But it has not done us well on the Western Slope.

“That argument has gotten us to were we are now, 500,000 to 600,000 acre feet of water moving from the west to the east. So I guess the status quo is not West Slope-friendly. We need something different. We need a different path. And these seven points provides that different path.”

The “seven points” form the basis of a “draft conceptual framework” for future negotiations regarding a potential transmountain diversion in Colorado.

The framework is the result of the ongoing statewide water-supply planning process that Eklund is overseeing in his role at the CWCB.

Eklund took the helm two years ago at the CWCB after serving as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s senior deputy legal counsel, and he’s been leading the effort to produce the state’s first water plan, which is due on the governor’s desk in December.

The second draft of the plan includes the seven points, even though the Colorado River Basin Roundtable, which meets monthly in Glenwood Springs under the auspices of the CWCB, is still on the record as opposing their inclusion in the water plan. That could change after its meeting on Monday.

The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.
The outflow of the Bousted Tunnel just above Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville. The tunnel moves water from tributaries of the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers under the Continental Divide for use by Front Range cities, and Pitkin County officials have concerns that more water will someday be sent through it.

Not legally binding

The “seven points” seeks to define the issues the Western Slope likely has with more water flowing east under the Continental Divide, and especially how a new transmountain diversion could hasten a demand from California for Colorado’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

“The seven points are uniquely helpful to Western Slope interests because if you tick through them, they are statements that the Front Range doesn’t necessarily have to make,” Eklund said in response to a question. “If these were legally binding, the Western Slope would benefit.”

Under Colorado water law a Front Range water provider, say, can file for a right to move water to the east, and a local county or water district might have little recourse other than perhaps to fight the effort through a permitting process.

But Eklund said the points in the “conceptual framework” could be invoked by the broader Western Slope when negotiating a new transmountain diversion.

As such, a diverter might at least have to acknowledge that water may not be available in dry years, that the diversion shouldn’t exacerbate efforts to forestall a compact call, that other water options on the Front Range, including increased conservation, should be developed first, that a new transmountain diversion shouldn’t preclude future growth on the Western Slope, and that the environmental resiliency of the donor river would need to be addressed.

“We’re just better off with them than without them,” Eklund said of the seven points.

The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.
The downstream face of the dam that forms Homestake Reservoir on Homestake Creek, a tributary of the upper Eagle River. A tunnel moves water from Homestake Reservoir to Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville.

A cap on the Colorado?

Eric Kuhn, the general manager of the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and represents 15 Western Slope counties, told the attendees that three existing agreements effectively cap how much more water can be diverted from the upper Colorado River and its tributaries above Glenwood Springs.

The Colorado Water Cooperative Agreement, which was signed in 2013 by 18 entities, allows Denver Water to develop another 18,000 acre-feet from the Fraser River as part of the Moffat, or Gross Reservoir, project, but it also includes a provision that would restrict other participating Front Range water providers from developing water from the upper Colorado River.

A second agreement will allow Northern Water to move another 30,000 acre feet of water out of the Colorado River through its Windy Gap facilities, but Northern has agreed that if it develops future projects, it will have to do so in a cooperative manner with West Slope interests.

And a third agreement known as the Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding will allow Aurora and Colorado Springs to develop another 20,000 acre feet of water as part of the Homestake project in the Eagle River basin, but will also provide 10,000 acre feet for Western Slope use.

“So effectively these three agreements, in effect, cap what you’re going to see above Glenwood Springs,” Kuhn said.

The Moffat, Windy Gap and Eagle River projects are not subject to the “seven points” in the conceptual agreement, and neither is the water that could be taken by the full use of these and other existing transmountain projects.

“So when you add all that up, there is an additional 100,000 to 150,000 acre-feet of consumptive use already in existing projects,” Kuhn said.

But beyond that, Kuhn said Front Range water providers desire security and want to avoid a compact call, just as the Western Slope does.

“We’ve been cussing and discussing transmountain diversions for 85 years,” Kuhn added, noting that the Colorado Constitution does not allow the Western Slope to simply say “no” to Front Range water developers.

“So, the framework is an agenda,” Kuhn said, referring to the “seven points.” “It’s not the law, but it is a good agenda to keep us on track. It includes important new concepts, like avoiding over development and protecting existing uses.”

rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.
rquoise Reservoir, which stores water brought under the Continental Divide from the Eagle, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork river headwaters.

Vet other projects too?

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County commissioner, told the attendees that she would like to see more water projects than just new transmountain diversions be subject to the seven points.

As part of the state’s water-supply planning efforts, state officials have designated a list of projects as already “identified projects and processes,” or IPPs, which are not subject to the seven points.

“We would like to see the same environmental standards, and community buy-in standards, applied to increasing existing transmountain diversions or IPPs,” Richards said, noting that the “IPPs” seem to be wearing a halo.

“They need to go through just as much vetting for concern of the communities as a new transmountain diversion would, and we’re probably going to see a lot more of them first,” she said.

At the end of the four-hour summit on the statewide water plan, Garfield County Commissioner Mike Sampson said he still had “real concerns” about the long-term viability of Western Slope agriculture and industry in the face of growth on the Front Range, but he offered some support for the seven points.

“I think the seven points is probably a good starting position,” Sampson said.

He also said Garfield County would make some edits to a draft position paper it hopes will be adopted by other Western Slope counties.

On Saturday, the draft paper said “the elected county commissioners on the Western Slope of Colorado stand united in opposing any more major, transmountain diversions or major changes in operation of existing projects unless agreed to by all of the county(s) from which water would be diverted.”

But Sampson was advised, and agreed, that it might be productive to reframe that key statement to articulate what the Western Slope would support, not what it would oppose.

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 published this story online on July 25, 2015.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.