Southern Delivery System: Colorado Springs Utilities has spent $26.6 M on land-related expenses

April 19, 2014
Southern Delivery System route map -- Graphic / Reclamation

Southern Delivery System route map — Graphic / Reclamation

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Colorado Springs has spent $26.6 million to acquire land for its $984 million Southern Delivery System. Most of the money was spent in El Paso County, although properties in Pueblo West and on Walker Ranches were purchased either permanently or for temporary easements.

Pipeline easements totaled $961,681 for 388 acres in Pueblo County, compared with $2.5 million for 486 acres in El Paso County.

Another $1 million was paid to buy homes in Pueblo West.

The big money was paid for other features of the project in El Paso County, a total of about $22 million.

“It would be misleading to simply do the math on the values above and conclude that more was paid for land in El Paso County than Pueblo County,” said Janet Rummel, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities, in an e-mail responding to a request from The Pueblo Chieftain.

Permanent easement prices ranged from 50-90 percent of fee value, while temporary easements are valued at 10 percent per year, varying from one to four years.

“The fee value of land depends primarily on location, but also is subject to size, shape, development entitlement and improvements, if any,” Rummel explained.

“Within the raw water pipeline alignments for SDS, fee values for easements and facilities ranged from $1,389 per acre to almost $20,000 per acre,” Rummel said. “Pueblo West properties were generally valued in the range between $10,900 to $13,000 per acre.”

At the high end of that scale were 6 homes on about 10 acres in Pueblo West purchased for $1.044 million.

But even below that scale were 103 acres, two-thirds in permanent easements, on Walker Ranches, which could be purchased for $82,900, or about $804 per acre. Utilities also paid Walker $600,000 to relocate cattle during construction, as required by Pueblo County’s 1041 permit.

Gary Walker will contest the amount of the easement payment in court this November, one of four cases still in dispute.

Walker also has raised complaints, most recently during a county public hearing, about erosion along the pipeline route. The bulk of the money, however, has gone for the treatment plant, pump station and reservoir sites in El Paso County.

Utilities paid $259,519 for 43 acres for the Bradley Pump Station; $2.4 million for 124 acres at the treatment plant and $19.3 million for a future reservoir site on Upper Williams Creek.

At the reservoir site, T-Cross Ranches, owned by the Norris family, received $9,500 per acre for 791 acres ($7.5 million), while the state land board received $10,500 per acre for 1,128 acres ($11.8 million).

SDS is a pipeline project that will deliver up to 96 million gallons of water daily from Lake Pueblo to Colorado Springs, Fountain, Security and Pueblo West.

The figures do not include money Utilities paid to purchase homes in Jimmy Camp Creek at a reservoir site that later was abandoned.


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: Scaling back to 550 cfs by Monday #ColoradoRiver

April 18, 2014

greenmountainreservoir

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We’ll be scaling back releases from Green Mountain over the weekend and then plan to maintain the lower release rate through next week. By Monday, April 21, we should be releasing about 550 cfs to the Lower Blue. The reduction in releases is due to some regularly scheduled maintenance. Property owners downstream of the dam have planned some channel work to correspond with the maintenance.

Releases will begin stepping back tomorrow, Saturday. We will go from 750 to 700 cfs around 8 p.m tomorrow evening. On Sunday, we will do two changes: the first at 4 p.m. from 700 to 650 cfs. The second around 10 p.m. from 650 to 600 cfs. On Monday, we will drop down one more time around 6 a.m. from 600 to 550 cfs.

Releases will go back up the following weekend of April 26.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


Reclamation now expects Lake Powell to fill to 3,620 feet this season #ColoradoRiver

April 18, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From KSL (Ray Grass):

The current level of Lake Powell is 3,574 feet above sea level. When full the level is 3,700 feet. Because of an above normal snowpack in Colorado this winter, which feeds the lake, the level is expected to reach 3,620 this summer. Which is, forecasters admitted, much better than was expected earlier in the winter.

The current level is not the lowest on record. Back in 2005 the lake’s level dropped to 3,555 feet. In 2011, the lake rose to within 40 feet of “full pool’’ and likely would have hit the full mark had not water releases not been increased into the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam…

As far as the invasive quagga mussel, adult mussels have been found in Lake Powell. Officials knew that once the mussels established a foothold in Lake Mead, 300 miles downstream fron Lake Powell, it would be only a matter of time before they made their way into Lake Powell.

A report in February said “thousands’’ of the tiny bivalves were located in Lake Powell. The mussels cause damage, are a nuisance to lake visitors and are a serious danger to fishing. Each mussel can produce millions of offspring and biologists have been unable to find a way to control the mussels, which fall in the same family as clams, oysters and scallops.

The first quagga mussel was found in Lake Powell in 2007. They were not discovered again until this year.

From the Casa Grande Dispatch (Kayla S. Samoy):

he overall snowpack stands at 115 percent of average for this time of the year in the Rockies. But, is it time to break out the red cups and toast an imminent reprieve in the drought and the dire predictions of cutbacks in regional allotments for water supplies from the 1,450-mile-long Colorado? Not so fast.

“It may be a better-than-average snowpack, but depending on what the weather does it could not snow any more or get hot very quickly and evaporate the water instead of having it flow into the Colorado River basin,” said Mitch Basefsky, a spokesman for the Central Arizona Project, the agency that manages Colorado River flow into Pinal, Maricopa and Pima counties.

There are other factors that will contribute to this winter’s snowpack impact on the Colorado River, said Bob Barrett, another CAP spokesman.

“The concern is that it’s been pretty mild the last month. We’ve had pretty good precipitation, but it was warm,” said Greg Smith, the senior hydrologist at the Colorado River Basin forecast center.
Smith said much of the debate about snowpack is rooted in the differences in the snowpack at different heights. According to Smith, lower elevations have seen very little snow this year…

The Green River Basin area in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado has a significant snowpack, the third-highest on record for this time of the year, said Smith. While that may be advantageous for some places, Arizona is a different story.

“Arizona is kind of a disaster,” Smith said.

Many winter storms skirted northern Arizona and the snow sites in the Verde and Salt River basins are nearly bereft of snow. The snow that did fall in that area disappeared quickly. Since the area doesn’t see many storms after mid-March, there isn’t much chance for a rebound, Smith said.

Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing the worst drought of the century. So far, Colorado River water users have not faced decreases in the amount of water they receiving because of reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which were full when the drought began. Today they are about half full.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water projects in the 17 western states, makes predictions about the state of water every two years. It currently projects that less water will be released from Lake Powell and Lake Mead this year and perhaps next year if the levels in the lake are still low.

“Right now they’re looking at the potential for shortage in either 2015 or 2016,” said Basefsky. “A shortage is pretty significant for CAP because we have the junior priority for the Colorado River Basin. We would forego importing about 20 percent of our water supply.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


The latest newsletter from the Colorado Water Congress is hot off the presses #COleg #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 18, 2014
Colorado River near De Beque

Colorado River near De Beque

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

A record 180 people registered for the Wednesday, April 16 webinar, “Adapting the Law of the Colorado River.” John McClow, Colorado’s Commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission and CWC Board President, provided a brief summary of the Law of the Colorado River: the Colorado River Compact, the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact, and the Mexican Treaty of 1944. This was followed by a description of collaborative efforts among the seven Colorado River Basin states, the Department of the Interior, and Mexico to adapt the law to changing conditions on the river.

Read an overview of the presentation on the CWC blog and view the presentation on the CWC website.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here.


Minute 319 enables water to flow in the #ColoradoRiver delta

April 17, 2014
Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

Right now, for the first time in many years, the Colorado River is flowing through its historic delta to the sea as a result of an intentional release by water managers. Scenes of jubilation have spread across the Internet as children play in a river they’ve never seen before, and scientists report that bird counts in the corridor are already up.

Meanwhile, combined water storage upstream from the delta in Lakes Mead and Powell have dropped to the lowest they’ve been since Powell filled in the 1960s, as water withdrawals from the river and its tributaries have exceeded new inflows for more than 10 years.

How can this be, that in an era of increasing competition for water, water was found to re-water the Colorado River Delta, and there aren’t riots in the streets? The answer provides a window into the complexities of water management on the river, and the determination of multiple parties to work together to solve its challenges.

The plan to release water to benefit the Colorado River Delta ecosystem was part of a complex “Minute 319” agreement between the United States, Mexico and the seven states that share the Colorado River, as well as several nongovernmental organizations on both sides of the international border. Some of the provisions include allowing Mexico to store water in Lake Mead and infrastructure improvements to Mexican irrigation systems. After a “pulse flow” of several weeks that simulates a moderate flood, minimum base flows will be maintained.

This agreement did not take shape overnight. It took years of study and negotiation by people who came to understand in detail the way the river is managed and the interests of all the parties that rely on this single source of water that brings life to so much otherwise dry land.

Many questions remain about how the natural environment will respond to this release of water, and whether the political environment will allow the experiment to be repeated. But the fact that it is happening at all is a major accomplishment.

If it is possible to find water for the Colorado Delta and simultaneously benefit other water users after a decade of extreme drought, then surely it must be possible to overcome other seemingly irreconcilable differences over water in the West.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Vail: ‘Restore the Gore’ campaign to kick off April 25

April 17, 2014

gorecreekwinter

From the Vail Daily:

An awareness campaign to help improve the health of Gore Creek is being introduced this spring with a focus on best practices for landscapers and gardeners. The “Restore the Gore” kick off takes place April 25 with a free Moe’s BBQ lunch and learn session from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Donovan Pavilion. Landscape contractors, gardeners, commercial applicators and lodging managers, in particular, are encouraged to attend. Lunch service will begin at 11:45 a.m. with presentations taking place from noon to 12:45 p.m.

Sponsored by the Town of Vail and the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, the program will include short presentations on the causes of Gore Creek’s decline and the everyday actions that can be implemented to help make a difference when it comes to water use, special irrigation permits, invasive plants and pesticides.

In 2012 Gore Creek was added to the State of Colorado’s 303(d) List of Impaired Waters due to the decline in aquatic life. Scientists have determined the impact is due to degradation and loss of riparian buffer areas, impacts of urban runoff and pollutants associated with land use activities. A Water Quality Improvement Plan has since been adopted that includes an emphasis on community awareness as well as strategies for regulatory measures, site specific projects, best management practices and an ongoing monitoring program.

In addition to the lunch and learn kick off, the town is distributing a handout on recommended pesticide practices for commercial landscapers and property owners. Additional information is available on the town’s website at http://www.vailgov.com/gorecreek.

If you plan to attend the April 25 lunch and learn program, please RSVP to Kristen Bertuglia, town of Vail environmental sustainability coordinator, at 970-477-3455 or email kbertuglia@vailgov.com no later than 5 p.m. April 23.

More Gore Creek watershed coverage here.


La Plata County: “[In the SW corner of the county] Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought” — Trent Taylor

April 17, 2014

organicdairycows

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

Agriculture is a difficult profession in the best of times, but it’s an even bigger challenge during a drought.

That’s one of the many takeaways from Wednesday evening’s panel discussing current and future issues for local agriculture sponsored by the League of Women Voters of La Plata County. About 85 people filled the Program Rooms at the Durango Public Library, including representatives from agricultural areas around the county and numerous local residents, as well.

“Everyone in this room is in agriculture because we’re all consumers,” said Patti Buck, president of American National Cattlewomen, who ranches with her husband, Wayne, in the Ignacio area. “We need to be heard. Cattle ranchers are a small number of people, but we feed the world.”

Other members of the panel included Trent Taylor of Blue Horizon Farms, who farms on the Dryside; Maria Baker, a member of a Southern Ute ranching family; Steve Harris of Harris Water Engineering; and Darrin Parmenter, the Colorado State University Extension agent for La Plata County. Marsha Porter-Norton, who grew up in a ranching family north of Cortez, served as moderator…

The idea for the panel came out of a national study the League did, said Marilyn Brown, the local chapter’s secretary and a member of the committee that’s been studying the local agricultural sector with an eye on public policy…

Harris gave a lesson about how water works in La Plata County, from the natural average runoff of about 950,000 acre-feet a year (an acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre in 1 foot of water, or 325,851 gallons). Almost two-thirds, 600,000 acre-feet, comes down the Animas River, with the Pine River drainage accounting for another 230,000 acre-feet…

All domestic use, including wells, is “insignificant,” he said, about 10,000 acre-feet.

Ranchers and farmers actually have been fighting drought conditions for more than a decade. Baker talked about how the tribe, which grants grazing units to the four or five full-time ranchers in the tribe, declared a complete moratorium on grazing units for five years starting in 2000 and still limits time or location on the ones it grants.

After taking everyone through a short history of farming and ranching in the southwest corner of the county, Taylor summed up the situation: “It’s a harsh area. Old-timers used to say it was nine months of winter and three months of drought.

More Animas River watershed coverage here. More La Plata River watershed coverage here.


Fryingpan-Arkansas Project update #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project via the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are getting ready to start importing water from the West Slope collection of the Fryingpan-Arkansas system to the East Slope. As long as minimum flows at both the Thomasville and Hunter Creek gages are met, we can begin diversions of additional water through the Boustead Tunnel.

Here are the minimum flows for the Fryingpan River at Thomasville:

Date Min Flow, (cfs)
Oct. 1 – Mar. 31 30
Apr. 1 – Apr. 30 100
May 1 – May 31 150
Jun. 1 – Jun. 30 200
Jul. 1 – Jul. 31 100
Aug. 1 – Aug 31 75
Sep 1 – Sep 30 65

Additionally, at Twin Lakes dam, we are curtailing releases to Lake Creek and the Arkansas River today and tomorrow. Today, we scaled back to about 100 cfs. Tomorrow, we will continue scaling back to 0 cfs while a regular review of the dam is conducted. Once the review is complete, we will bring releases back up.

More Fryingpan-Arkansas Project coverage here.


The Town of Breckenridge to host public forums about new water treatment plant, April 26 and 28 #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

Breckenridge circa 1913 via Breckenridge Resort

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

Breckenridge could start construction on a new water plant along the Blue River in as soon as three years. But first, the town wants your input.

The public is invited to attend four forums to learn about the construction of the town’s second water plant and give comments. The forums will be April 23 and 28, at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. both days, at the Breckenridge Police Station.

“This is the master plan for the next 25 to 30 years,” said town manager Tim Gagen.

At the forums, town officials will explain the projected cost of the plant and upgrades to the water system.

The first phase of the project includes building the plant, pumps and plumbing to get the water integrated with the current system, he said, which should cost about $25 million to $30 million dollars. The plant itself should cost about $10 million, which Gagen called reasonable. The expensive part, he said, will be pumping water a couple miles into town, against gravity.

Phase two includes extending lines into areas outside the town limits not currently serviced, which Gagen said could cost more than $40 million but would only be built if and when people want that service.

Customers living outside the town limits use private wells that have a high likelihood of failure and need equipment replacements after 15 or 20 years. And before this project, he said, if those people wanted water service, the town had to annex their land.

People in those areas have called about extending service to their neighborhoods, Gagen said, not to feed their homes, but to feed water hydrants on the street. That would help with wildfire protection and lower their insurance rates.

“They would have to pay for it,” he said about the phase two extensions. “It wouldn’t be built by the current customers.”

Gagen said he expects questions at the forums about the plant’s locations and the impact on the Blue River.

As far as where the new plant will go, officials know the water will be drawn from the river just north of Swan Mountain Road.

The town hasn’t decided yet on the plant’s exact location, but it will be north of town for several reasons.

Putting it north of town, closer to Dillon Reservoir, means the plant would leave water in the Breckenridge part of the Blue River in town, which he said is better for the health of the river and doesn’t counteract the restoration work done there in the last few decades.

A site north of town also is better for water rights issues, as the Upper Blue Sanitation District has some rights in town.

And the water quantity and quality is better closer to the lake, Gagen said, with lower concentrations of heavy metals leftover from mining.

Gagen said the town looked at putting the plant closer to the original one, south of town, but that wouldn’t solve the problem of insecurity in the system in case of mechanical failure.

Unlike the water systems in Silverthorne and Dillon, which are interconnected in case one of the towns has an emergency, “We’re a standalone system,” Gagen said. “We don’t have a backup.”

“And” he added, “our biggest fear quite honestly is fire.”

Erosion from fire affects the cost to treat water. A second plant would give the utility time for repairs and cleanup.

So although the whole project will cost more because of the location farther north, he said, the town will “trade additional costs for other positives we think will be beneficial to the community in the long-run.”

The Water System Study

A task force established in 2011 to consider issues surrounding the town’s water system found that the supply to the existing Gary Roberts Water Treatment Plant would be very low in an extreme drought, leading to shortages. And though the town has made improvements in water conservation and management efficiency, the current water plant (which was constructed beginning in 1972) is nearing 80 percent capacity.

A study of the town’s water system by Sarah C. Clark, an engineer in Denver, was completed and presented to the town council in January.

The study strongly recommends the construction of a three-MGD (million gallons per day) plant to meet future population demands and provide more service to the homes and lots near the existing water system’s boundaries.

In the event of a wildfire or another environmental disaster or a mechanical malfunction of the current plant, a second water plant would provide a critical back-up system.

The study also noted that the current Breckenridge system supplies high-quality drinking water at a low cost to customers compared to other Colorado communities. The new plant will require increases in the user fees which will be shared by current and future customers.

Besides increasing water rates and fees, Gagen said the town is looking at a list of potential revenue streams, including about $8 million the utility has saved for improvements, grants and funding from partners like the county.

Debt will be the most important element of the financing, he said, helping to spread the cost over about 30 years “so no one generation of people is suffering the cost of paying for the whole thing.”

For now, the town is in the process of gathering public input and meeting with Summit County government and Upper Blue Sanitation District officials.

Then the town will start modifying water rates to fit the new plant, and after three or four years of the design and approval process, it will start construction.

The study is available online at http://www.townofbreckenridge.com, and the town council urges the public to review it before the public forums.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Ditches are running along the Roaring Fork #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014

haymeadowsneargunnison

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

For Gavin Metcalf, April 15 isn’t just tax day. It’s the beginning of six months of full time work as Carbondale’s official “Ditch Rider.”

Metcalf’s steed is a John Deere utility vehicle, but otherwise his job description looks like something out of the previous century. He starts the morning by turning a wheel on a large metal gate along the bank of the Crystal River. When the water in the Carbondale Ditch reaches a certain point, he locks the gate in place.

“You can tell it’s the right depth because that root is just barely sticking out of the water,” he explains. Sure enough, when he walks down to the flume for a more scientific measurement, it’s dead on…

In addition to natural challenges, Metcalf struggles with human interference. People construct makeshift dams which can flood upstream and burn out downstream pumps. They dump all manner of things into ditches they wouldn’t dream of throwing in the river. Not that most of it makes it that far. Even grass clippings tend to stick around and clog the system, explains Metcalf. And when he has to turn off the water to fix the problem, few residents connect the dots.

“The water is there to be used,” Metcalf says, “but a lot of people don’t seem to understand what it takes to make that happen.”

Carbondale’s water rights on the Crystal are as old as the town itself. It’s one of the few municipalities in the region — along with Aspen and Silt — that has kept its system intact. The original 1880s rights were expanded considerably in the 1920s. Since then, usage has fluctuated as the community expands and the ranches begin to disappear.

So far, the runoff forecast for this year looks bright, but Carbondale’s utilities department is planning ahead. “If, at some point, we elect to go into water rationing, we want a really firm idea of what it’s going to take to maintain the system under drought conditions,” explains Utilities Director Mark O’Meara. “It’s going to take some time to really dial in, but I think we have enough foundation to make better judgment calls on how much we take out of the river.”

More Roaring Fork watershed coverage here.


“We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen” — Don Ostler #ColoradoRiver

April 16, 2014
Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

From Circle of Blue (Brett Walton):

Still in the earliest stages of negotiation, two remedies have emerged, both of which seek to fortify Lake Powell, the nation’s second largest reservoir, and preserve its capacity to generate electricity and supply water to the 40 million people who live in the watershed.

One strategy is an operational revision: release more water from upper-basin reservoirs during drought emergencies. The other option would cut demand: ask – or perhaps pay – farmers to stop growing crops in order to save water. Both approaches are technically and legally feasible, according to those involved in the discussions and outside experts.

“We’ve never had to do this before because we never planned for this degree of low water storage,” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, an administrative body, told Circle of Blue. “We want to plan for extreme hydrology the likes of which we have never seen.”[...]

… in the iconic Colorado River, flows have been above average in only three of the last 14 years. If the rest of the decade follows a similar hydrological trajectory, “dramatic problems emerge rather quickly,” said John McClow, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission. McClow told Circle of Blue that the basin states used computer simulations last June to replicate the 2001 to 2007 river flows, a rather dry period, from 2014 until the end of the decade…

The upper basin wants to prevent a call on the river, a circumstance in which the four states are unable to meet their legal obligations to send water downstream to Arizona, California, and Nevada. A call has never happened.

The upper basin also wants to keep Lake Powell’s surface elevation from dropping below 3,490 feet, the point at which hydropower generation from Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, would probably stop. Lake Powell has never tested that limit, a theoretical threshold. Today, Powell’s surface elevation is 3,574 feet, having fallen 60 feet in two years.

Glen Canyon provides as many as 5.8 million people with a portion of their electricity. Revenue from electricity sales helps pay to operate the dams. It also underwrites measures to reduce salt in the Colorado River and revive fish habitat.

To keep Powell from draining, one option is to release more water from reservoirs located higher in the basin: Flaming Gorge, in Wyoming; Navajo, in New Mexico; and a Colorado cluster known as the Aspinall Unit. These Rocky Mountain reservoirs evaporate less water than Powell, located in Utah’s arid canyon country, said Malcolm Wilson, chief of the Bureau of Reclamation’s water resources group, which operates the reservoirs. But that does not preclude a shift in operations.

“There’s nothing to say we couldn’t release more water than we have to sustain Powell,” Wilson told Circle of Blue, stating that the interests of the upper basin and Reclamation align, both wanting to keep the dam’s cash register ringing…

McClow noted that recreation and environmental constraints would need to be respected. Each of the higher-elevation reservoirs has an endangered species in its watershed, he said.

Along with the reservoir shuffle, upper basin negotiators are debating what a farmland fallowing program would look like. More questions – Who pays for it? Which lands are targeted? – than answers exist now, McClow said.

Doug Kenney, a water policy expert at the University of Colorado’s Natural Resources Law Center, said he saw no obvious legal problems with the two options.

“As long as they don’t try to be too picky about who owns that water, then I think it’s entirely realistic,” Kenney told Circle of Blue. “If they want to be picky, then all sorts of legal issues and potential problems come forward.”

Kenney said that ascribing ownership to the water begins to resemble the selling or transfer of water rights across state lines, a bête noire for the basin. Better, he said, if the water is not earmarked and simply flows downstream.

Ostler, the river commission’s executive director, said that the upper basin would like to have a plan finalized by the end of the year…

…none of the [Lower Basin] representatives that Circle of Blue contacted offered many details about their drought planning.

“We’re certainly having discussions about existing drought and contingency planning for an ongoing sustained drought,” said Colby Pellegrino, who handles Colorado River issues for Southern Nevada Water Authority, the state’s largest water utility. “But we’re not to a point where we can say what those options will be.”

Tanya Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, also demurred and declined to comment.

Pellegrino did say that the lower basin states are using hydrology models used in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Colorado River Basin study, a comprehensive supply and demand assessment published in December 2012.

That study assessed water use through 2060, but the current drought discussions take a narrower view. Pellegrino said the lower basin interests are looking at options through 2026, the year that the shortage sharing agreement expires.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


“…I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR


Ken Neubecker posted the comment below in response to this post:

I can forgive Chris Treese for perhaps not knowing that I’ve worked for American Rivers now for a while. I have been on the Basin Roundtable and very involved in the discussions for a very long time and Western Slope water issues for over 20 years. [Gary Harmon, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel], who has my contact info from the MER release, should have given any one of us a call and could have found that out.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here. More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Piedra River: Say hello to Chimney Rock Farms #ColoradoRiver

April 15, 2014
Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

Chimney Rock Farms photo via the Cortez Journal

From the Cortez Journal (Mary Shinn):

At Chimney Rock Farms on the Piedra River, Brewer has built two commercial-scale aquaponic greenhouses that house fish tanks and thousands of square feet of troughs where kale, lettuce and tot soy float on a foot of water in rafts from seed to harvest.

“We’re pioneering this, no doubt,” said Brewer. He said that the operation, located 6,600 feet above sea level, is the largest commercial aquaponics farm venture in Colorado.

Brewer plans to supply new Southwest Farm Fresh, A Farm and Ranch Cooperative, which was started in Montezuma County. He also plans to supply the Pagosa Springs farmers market, his Community Supported Agriculture membership, organic grocery stores and restaurants.

In March, the operation had already been supplying a grocery store for three weeks.

In the aquaponic environment, the greens mature in six weeks, which allows him to provide custom mixes of greens and meet demand quickly.

“It’s revolutionary for us,” he said.

In addition to greens, his tilapia – the “aquaponic” aspect of the hydroponic system – can also be sold. Brewer may sell the fish whole on ice at farmers markets, but they are not his main focus.

How it works

In the most basic terms, fish poop feeds plants. In technical terms, the tilapia excrete ammonia. Bacteria break the ammonia down into nitrites and then into nitrates, which feed the plants. The plant roots filter the water, and the water is pumped back to the fish.

The tilapia can’t be kept with the plants because they’d eat the roots. But very small mosquito fish clean the roots and fend off potential mosquitoes.

The seeds are germinated in soil, and the fish-fertilized water flows beneath. As the plants mature, they are transferred into rafts that allow for more space and push down the trough. This system reduces man hours and eliminates all weeds.

“We were spending 60 percent of the time to produce a leafy green, weeding our beds,” he said. To harvest, the roots just need to be trimmed off.

It is also very efficient in terms of water. Aquaponic systems use less than 5 percent of the water of traditional agriculture, Brewer said.

“This is a good fit for us in the desert Southwest,” Brewer said.

As green as possible

Brewer was looking for ways to grow year round, but the inefficiencies of a greenhouse held him back.

“Heating traditional greenhouses with fossil fuels – propane and natural gas – is a very, very tough way to make a living,” he said.

In his newly built greenhouses, the water is heated by solar panels, and a wood boiler. This allows him to grow when temperatures are below freezing outside. He also uses solar panels to power air and water pumps, and grow lights. The solar panels allow him to put electricity back into the grid, and his monthly electricity bill has dropped from more than $600 to just $16.

In the new greenhouses, he hopes to grow from mid-February through Thanksgiving.

He expects that he will make back his investment in his capital improvements in five to six years.

It was important to him to reduce his use of fossil fuels because they are limited resource and their ballooning costs can cut into thin farm profit margins.

“As a farmer, your margins are too thin to rely on fossil fuel costs as a line item,” Brewer said…

“Hopefully, we can prove the economic viability of this such that other people are willing to take the capital intensive risk to build a system like this to grow local food,” he said.

More San Juan Basin coverage here.


“American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases” — Chris Treese #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 14, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

The upper reaches of the Colorado River make up one of the nation’s most endangered rivers, largely because of the possibility of a transmountain diversion, according to an annual listing. The upper Colorado came in second among the most endangered rivers, according to American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, which last year put the Colorado River on top of the list of endangered rivers, criticizing the “outdated water management throughout the region.”

The upper Colorado’s listing this year gives ammunition to the Western Slope in dealing with Front Range interests looking at a new diversion, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.

The listing “serves to highlight the uncertainty about the Colorado water plan,” Treese said.

It also, however, reflects a lack of knowledge about the inner dynamics of Colorado water and how the state already is dealing with those matters, he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper last year ordered the development of a statewide water plan to be on his desk this December and be complete by the end of 2015. State officials are aware that they’re under close observation, said James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“We know that downstream states, the federal government, and numerous national organizations are watching what Colorado is doing with our water, and that’s an important reason why we’re engaged in Colorado’s water plan,” Eklund said, noting that the plan is being drafted with the state’s system of prior appropriation in mind.

The water plan is to take into account the work already done by various groups, or roundtables, representing the state’s river basins, the Colorado River Basin among them.

“American Rivers isn’t coming to the roundtables” or the Interbasin Compact Committee, Treese said. “American Rivers needs to come to the joint talks, as well as issue press releases.”

The statewide water plan won’t include a transmountain diversion, but it could outline the way that one could be pursued.

American Rivers worked with several conservation and environmental organizations in listing the upper Colorado as endangered, among them Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. The statewide water plan, said Bart Miller of Western Resource Advocates, offers “both a threat and an opportunity” to the Western Slope. To be sure, some Front Range water providers view it as an opportunity to send more water east from the Yampa, Gunnison or Colorado mainstem, Miller said.

Many of the river basins in Colorado already suffer water shortages, so the water plan discussion is an opportunity to find ways to protect rivers “that are so valuable for irrigation, recreation and other things,” Miller said. In any case, the plan should focus on preserving the 80,000 jobs and the $9 billion the river generates on the Western Slope, Miller said.

American Rivers called on Colorado to avoid a transmountain diversion, increase the efficient use of water in cities and towns, modernize agricultural practices and give priority to river restoration and protection. The organization listed the San Joaquin River in California as the most endangered in the nation and also placed the White River in northwest Colorado as the seventh-most endangered because it’s threatened by oil and gas development.

The listing, said David Ludlam, executive director of the West Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is “vague and hyperbolic and it disregards the fact that Colorado has the most robust regulations in the nation, and probably the world, when it comes to protecting water.”

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Highline Lake dredging complete #ColoradoRiver

April 14, 2014

highlinelake

From Dredging Today:

The dredging operation removed years of silt buildup that will significantly enhance water recreation at the popular park, located northwest of Fruita.

“We thank the public for their patience while the work has been going on,” said Park Manager Alan Martinez. “The project was successful and we invite everyone to come out and enjoy one of the best boating opportunities in the Grand Valley.”

The East boat ramp had been closed for over three years due to a deep buildup of silt. The dredging restored a deep channel out to the lake from the East Bay making it accessible to boaters.

The West boat ramp remains open as well.

In addition, the work uncovered the dam outlet structure allowing divers to perform safety inspections and testing.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and Colorado Lottery provided $1,070,000 for the project; however, the project’s total costs to date are $870,000.

More infrastructure coverage here.


Breck snowfall above average 4 months in a row

April 14, 2014

Originally posted on Summit County Citizens Voice:

Fourth-snowiest year on record in Summit County

Big snows coated the Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

Big snows coated Colorado’s Gore Range in March 2014. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Another month of above-normal snowfall has put Breckenridge on track for its fourth-snowiest winter on record, according to National Weather Service observer Rick Bly, who measured 37.4 inches at his backyard gauge.

That makes it the 10th-snowiest March, a month that sees average snowfall of 25.5 inches. Bly said precipitation has been above average for four straight months. During the current water year, which started Oct. 1, only November saw slightly below normal snowfall. Precipitation (the combination of melted snow and rain) for the water year to date is already at 15.2 inches, nearly six inches more than average.

View original 300 more words


Green Mountain Reservoir operations update: 710 cfs in the Blue River below the dam #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014

greenmountainreservoir

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

Currently, we are releasing about 710 cfs from the dam to the Lower Blue River. The reservoir is at a water level elevation of about 7890 feet–that’s roughly 60 feet below full, or roughly 38% of its total content.

You will see the reservoir water elevation continue to drop for about another month. The current snowpack above the Blue River Basin is around 140% of average for this time of year. I’ve been asked how this compares to snowpack numbers for the 2011 season on the Blue River. In 2011 in April we were closer to 150%. We continue to keep an eye on the snowpack conditions, fluctuating inflows, and the water level elevation and adjusting releases as necessary. It is likely the 710 cfs release rate will remain in place well into next week.

More Green Mountain Reservoir coverage here.


Colorado-Big Thompson Project update: Seasonal fill for Horestooth and Carter underway #ColoradoRiver

April 13, 2014
Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

Colorado-Big Thompson Project east slope facilities

From email from Reclamation (Kara Lamb):

We are in the process of filling both Horsetooth and Carter Lake. Currently, Horsetooth is roughly 80% full at an elevation of 5414 feet above sea level. This is its average water elevation high mark for the beginning of the summer season in a typical year. But, this is not a typical water year and Horsetooth’s water elevation is projected to continue going up.

Similarly, Carter Lake is 90% full at a water level elevation of about 5749 feet. Like Horsetooth, it is projected to continue filling. At this time, we are anticipating Carter will fill, hitting its highest water level elevation for the season by mid-May. Horsetooth will likely hit its highest water level elevation for the season by late June.


“…nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow” — Jim Pokrandt #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 13, 2014
Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands -- Graphic/USBR

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

…it’s important to note that “nobody is digging a new tunnel tomorrow,” and organizations like the Glenwood Springs-based River District are active at the table in working to protect Western Colorado interests in the face of growing Front Range water needs, [Jim Pokrandt] said.

“There are a lot of top-10 lists when it comes to rivers and water conservation,” Pokrandt said in reaction to the listing last Wednesday by the nonprofit conservation group American Rivers. “It’s a good way to generate publicity for these various causes.”

American Rivers calls on Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to prevent new water diversions and instead prioritize protection of Western Slope rivers and water conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan, which remains in discussions through a roundtable process that involves stakeholders from across the state.

Already, about 450,000 to 600,000 acre-feet of water per year is diverted from the Colorado basin to the Front Range, Pokrandt noted.

The prospect of more diversions “is definitely being advocated in some quarters from those who say a new project is not a question of if, but when and how soon,” he said.

“We’re saying that’s a big ‘if,’ because there are a lot of big issues around that.”

Pokrandt said any new trans-mountain diversions are “questionable, if it’s even possible.” That’s primarily because of the Colorado River Compact with down-river states that guarantees their share of river water.

“It’s important that we don’t overdevelop the river, and any more transmountain diversions should be the last option out of the box [for Front Range needs],” said. “First and foremost, it behooves all of Colorado to be more efficient in our water use.”[...]

Pokrandt notes that many municipalities across the state, not just the Front Range, are scrambling to find water to take care of projected population growth. That means more water demand on both sides of the Continental Divide.

“But there’s a big question about how much water is really left to develop,” he said. “There’s also an economic benefit to leaving water in the river without developing it, so there’s that issue as well.”[...]

Another Colorado river on the American Rivers endangered list this year is the White River, which was No. 7 due to the threat of oil and gas development and the risk to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water and recreation opportunities.

The White River flows from the northern reaches of the Flat Tops through Rio Blanco County and into the Green River in northeastern Utah.

“Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers in their Wednesday news release.

From the Vail Daily (Melanie Wong):

The conservation group American Rivers releases the annual list, and rivers that are threatened include sections of the Colorado that run through Eagle County, including headwater rivers, which include the Eagle River.

According to the group, the river is threatened as many Front Range cities look for future water sources to meet growing municipal and industrial needs. Some of those communities are eyeing various parts of the Colorado for diversion.

Advocates hope the list garners some national awareness and spurs lawmakers to prevent new water diversions and prioritize river protection and water conservation measures in the state water plan.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubecker, of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”[...]

For decades, Front Range growth has been fed by Western Slope rivers. Around a half million acres of water is already being diverted east from the Upper Colorado and growing cities need more. The problem with diversions, said Neubecker, is that the water leaves the Western Slope forever, citing a proposed project to tap into Summit County’s Blue Mountain Reservoir and divert water from the Blue River.

“Grand and Summit counties are justifiably worried about a Green Mountain pumpback, and so should Eagle County, because that project isn’t possible without a Wolcott reservoir,” he said. “With water diverted to the Front Range, we never see it again. It has serious impacts on us as far as drought and growth. It’s a finite resource.”

Historically, there have been agreements that have benefited both the Western and Eastern slopes, and river advocates said they want to see more such projects. The Colorado Cooperative Agreement, announced in 2011, involved the cooperation of many Eagle County entities. The Eagle River Memorandum of Understanding, signed in 1998, was also a major victory for mountain communities, significantly capping the amount of water that could be taken at the Homestake Reservoir and keeping some water in Eagle County.

Another settlement with Denver Water in 2007 was a big win for the local water community, said Diane Johnson, of Eagle River Water and Sanitation. “Denver Water gave up a huge amount of water rights, pretty much everything leading into Gore Creek, and as for a Wolcott Reservoir, it could only be developed with local entities in control,” she said. “Things are done more collaboratively now. It’s not the 1960s and ’70s anymore, where the Front Range developed the rivers without thought of how it affected local communities.”[...]

A new Colorado State University report commissioned by the Eagle River Watershed Council studied the state of the Eagle River.

“It’s clearly showing that the biggest threat to this portion of the Upper Colorado is reduced flows. It’s impacting wildlife for sure, most notably the fish,” said the council’s executive director Holly Loff.

With less water, the average river temperature is rising, and many cold-water fish have either been pushed out or killed as a result. Less water also means less riparian (riverside) habitat, an ecosystem that supports 250 species of animals. Of course, less water also affects river recreation and means there’s less water to drink.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


Wild and Scenic status for Deep Creek? BLM defers to coalition to keep feds out of management.

April 12, 2014
Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

Deep Creek via the Bureau of Land Management

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Federal agencies have found Deep Creek east of Glenwood Canyon to be suitable for wild and scenic protective status.

But the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have decided to defer such a determination for parts of the Colorado River in and east of the canyon and instead give a coalition the chance to provide similar protections while keeping the federal government out of it.

The decisions were announced as part of final resource management plans released by the BLM’s Colorado River Valley and Kremmling field offices, and a related action by the White River National Forest. They are subject to protest periods before they can be finalized.

The agency determinations regarding Deep Creek wouldn’t confer the protective status on Deep Creek. That would require an act of Congress, or by the Interior secretary under certain conditions when a state governor petitions for it. Only one waterway in Colorado, the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County, is now a wild and scenic river.

The Deep Creek suitability finding applies to Forest Service and BLM segments covering about 15 miles of the Colorado River tributary, which as its name suggests is rugged and largely inaccessible. According to a suitability report from both agencies, they determined the segments can be managed under the wild and scenic designation “with very little conflict with other uses because most of the land is federal, and the likelihood of development is small.”

Circumstances are different on the Colorado River, leading the agencies to hold off, at least for now, on determining wild and scenic suitability for nearly 100 miles of water on several stretches from Gore Canyon outside Kremmling through No Name just east of Glenwood Springs. Instead, they’ve decided to see if a stakeholder group’s alternative management plan will suffice. That group is made up of counties, conservation groups, western Colorado and Front Range water utilities, and other entities worried about the implications should wild and scenic status be conferred on the river.

“It will have all the protections of that but doesn’t come with the federal designation, which is going to be key for the local management of the river in Colorado,” said Mike Eytel, a water resource specialist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which is part of the group.

The concern of a wild and scenic designation is its potential to limit water development within river stretches receiving that protection.

“It could have a significant impact on our ability to develop Colorado River water, in my opinion,” Eytel said.

The Forest Service’s draft decision states that the decision to give the stakeholders’ proposal a chance will provide certainty for their “water yield and flexibility for future management on such a complex river system as the Colorado River.”

Eytel said assuming the decisions go forward, the real work begins for the group as it seeks to monitor and manage the river as outlined in its plan. Under the Forest Service and BLM decisions, they reserve the right to revisit the suitability question later if protections aren’t adequate.

The BLM also has found dozens of other river and creek stretches to not be suitable for wild and scenic status, including stretches farther upstream on the Colorado River.

More Wild and Scenic coverage here.


“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers” — Louis Meyer #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 12, 2014
Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“It’s a bunch of river with serious targets on them,” said Ken Neubecker of Carbondale about the upper Colorado basin. Neubecker, a longtime volunteer with Trout Unlimited and the former head of Western Rivers Institute, now works with American Rivers on policy and conservation issues.

In addition to rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, Neubecker said the Blue, Eagle, Fraser, Yampa, Gunnison and Green rivers are all threatened by more water diversions.

“We continue to treat rivers as engineered plumbing systems and not ecosystems,” Neubecker said. “And the river doesn’t get a seat at the planning table.”

Aspenites will have a chance to learn more about the current threats and challenges to local and regional rivers when Louis Meyer of Glenwood Springs-based SGM engineering firm makes a presentation today at 6 p.m. in the Rio Grande meeting room in Aspen behind the county courthouse.

Meyer is an engineer, a member of the Colorado River Basin Roundtable and a consultant to the roundtable, which is charged with developing a detailed water plan for the Colorado River basin by July. That basin plan will help inform a statewide plan called the Colorado Water Plan.

For the past several months, Meyer has been talking to members of the public and water providers across the upper Colorado River basin, which extends in Colorado from Rocky Mountain National Park to the state line west of Loma.

“When the public comments, the No. 1 thing they are very interested in is healthy rivers,” Meyer said. “Not just flat rivers where the hydrograph has been taken off by reservoirs, but rivers that can support healthy biology.”

During a recent presentation in Carbondale sponsored by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Meyer said 41 percent of the Fryingpan River and Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range, while 37 percent of the water in the Roaring Fork River and its upper tributaries is sent east under the Continental Divide.

Each year, about 98,900 acre-feet of water is sent out of Pitkin County to growing cities on the Front Range, which is equal to almost all the stored water in a full Ruedi Reservoir. By comparison, Grand County sends 307,500 acre-feet east, Summit County, 73,100 acre-feet, and Eagle, 32,000 acre-feet…

He suggested that people in the Roaring Fork River valley need to better understand what the “PSOP,” or “Preferred Storage Options Plan” is.

“PSOP is something you have to start paying attention to,” Meyer said. “It is an effort by the consortium of East Slope water providers in the Arkansas basin — the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, the cities of Pueblo and Colorado Springs.

“They would like to enlarge Turquoise Reservoir, near Leadville — that’s where water out of the Fryingpan is diverted — and they want to enlarge Pueblo Reservoir down very low in the basin so they can store more water.

“Where is that water going to come from? It’s going to come from out of this basin. The infrastructure is already there,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it.”

Southeastern’s current strategic plan, available on its website, includes the goal to “maximize Fry-Ark diversions to the limit of (the district’s) water rights.”

In addition to PSOP, that could mean diverting more water from a “deferred area” in the Fryingpan headwaters through diversions planned, but not built, as part of the original Fry-Ark project…

Meyer also said that three Front Range counties between Denver and Colorado Springs — Douglas, Arapahoe and El Paso — are growing fast, need more water and are looking at some relatively dramatic potential solutions referred to as “big straws.”

The straws, or big pipelines and pump-back projects, could take water from the Green, Yampa, or Gunnison rivers and send it back over the Continental Divide to the Front Range.

And Meyer said discussions are happening now between Front Range and Western Slope water interests to determine under what conditions the Western Slope parties might agree to such a project…

Land use, not water use, may be the real key to leaving water in Western Slope rivers, he added.

“The biggest single issue that has come to the forefront in our work is that it’s not a water issue, it is a land-use issue,” Meyer said. “People are asking the questions, ‘shouldn’t we have our land use connected to our water use?’ and ‘shouldn’t the land use of the future respect that we already have a water shortage?’

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Snowpack news: “You’ve had a great snow year” — Nolan Doesken #ColoradoRiver

April 12, 2014

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

“You’ve had a great snow year,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University, “and it doesn’t take a crazy scientist to tell you that.”

The Summit Ranch measurement site recorded 30 percent above the 30-year median Friday. The Fremont Pass, Hoosier Pass and Grizzly Peak sites recorded between 126 and 139 percent of that median Friday.

“February was huge, March was plentiful and April so far has had just a storm or two,” he said, “but there’s another one coming for the weekend.”

The sites at lower altitudes, like the Copper Mountain site, have already started showing some snow melt, he said. The county is almost assured an excellent run-off season with full reservoirs.

Notwithstanding dry weather in the spring, the county should avoid drought conditions through the summer, said Troy Wineland, Summit’s water commissioner…

And snowpack has treated other parts of the state well. The South Platte Basin has recorded the most above-average snowpack, he said, which means the East Slope should take less water from across the Continental Divide, leaving more for the mountain region…

The settled base at Breckenridge Ski Resort is about 10 inches above normal for this time of year, said spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart, and snowfall for the season so far is about 70 inches above average.

At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said, “year-to-date snowfall is just over 360 inches, and any season with that much snow is going to bode well for our business.”[...]

The Blue River water levels were too low for rafting for the last two years, said Campy Campton, co-owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco, who has been rafting locally for almost 30 years. In 2013, he said, the weather was shaping up to repeat the drought conditions of 2012.

“It was little stressful going into April,” he said, “but Mother Nature came through and saved us.”[...]

This year’s above-average snowpack was likely caused by climate patterns around the country. With the “bone-chilling relentless cold” in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes region and the warm dry winter in California and the Pacific Northwest, Doesken said, Colorado was “sort of in a squeeze zone between the two.”

Summit County especially was hit with jet stream air blowing from the northwest, “popping it right up the Blue River Valley” and concentrating snow in an ideal and consistent way.

“Does that mean anything for the future?” he asked. “No. That’s just how it happened this year.”


Aspinall Unit operations update

April 11, 2014

aspinallunitdescription

From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel Monday morning, April 14th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 850 cfs to 950 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 500 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.

More Aspinall Unit coverage here.


The Gunnison County Commissioners take a look at the Gunnison Roundtable basin implementation plan #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

Gunnison River Basin via the Colorado Geological Survey

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (George Sibley):

Concern about possible transmountain diversions dominated a public information-and-input meeting in Gunnison on Gunnison Basin Roundtable water planning.

The Gunnison County Commissioners hosted the meeting during their work session Tuesday, March 25. Thirty-five or 40 citizens participated in the discussion through the course of a two-hour meeting.

The water plan under consideration was the Gunnison Basin Roundtable’s contribution to the Colorado Water Plan ordered by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013; the plan will create possible solutions for a significant gap between the known water supply and the needs of a population projected to grow 60-100 percent by mid-century, mostly in the Front Range metropolis. Presenting information on the Gunnison Basin plan were roundtable members Frank Kugel, Rufus Wilderson and George Sibley.

The meeting focused mainly on goals that have been identified for the Gunnison Basin over the next four decades, and some “statewide principles” that it hopes to persuade at least the other West Slope basin roundtables to adopt in negotiations for the statewide water plan; some may be acceptable to all eight state river basins plus the metro area.

The priority goal stated for the Gunnison Basin is “to protect all existing water uses.” Roundtable members, according to Sibley, feel that the Gunnison Basin now has a good mix of consumptive uses (agricultural and municipal/domestic/industrial) and non-consumptive uses (environmental, recreational and hydropower), town-and-country, working-and-playing landscapes, and they want to carry that forward into the future. Change should be incremental, and weighed against its impact on existing uses.

Some of the citizen input warned the roundtable presenters to anticipate possible major changes in the headwaters region, from the oil and gas industry and potential mining operations for copper, molybdenum and “rare earth” minerals. Several citizens wanted to see more focus on water quality.

Other intra-basin goals discussed supporting the priority goal. While the planning process was brought about by a projected metropolitan water shortage, the municipal/industrial shortage in the Gunnison Basin is projected to be small, around 6,500 acre-feet (enough for approximately 13,000 four-person households) — roughly one percent of the projected statewide municipal/industrial shortage, and probably manageable through some anticipated agricultural land-use changes.

The heavily agricultural basin does, however, have a significant existing shortage of agricultural water, mostly late in the season, limiting the productivity of the land. Concern over these shortages is not limited to the ranchers; it acknowledges the close relationship between the valley’s agricultural land base and its economically important non-consumptive uses — the environmental and recreational uses also dependent on the extensive groundwater storage, wildlife wetlands and increased late season flows that result from irrigated floodplains, as well as aesthetic open-space considerations.

Most of the concerns expressed by the citizens present, however, reflected a Gunnison Basin antipathy toward headwaters diversions across the Continental Divide going back to the 1930s. These fears were not entirely allayed by the “Statewide Principles” being advanced in the Gunnison Plan. Kugel and Sibley explained that the strategy was to set the bar so high, for Front Range demand reduction preceding any diversion and West Slope compensations in exchange for any diversion, that the diversion would prove to be economically unfeasible. This strategy is furthered by the fact that both the Gunnison and Upper Colorado Basins are now over-appropriated in sub-average water years; any new diversion would be limited to above-average water years — a serious risk for the Front Range water suppliers to contemplate, given the projections for climate change on the one hand and the high cost of “pumpback” projects on the other.

That notwithstanding, the message from the audience was clearly for the roundtable to not be “soft” on the inevitable discussion of further transmountain diversion from any West Slope basin, since water removed from any of them increases the amount of water the other basins must send downstream for still undefined Lower Basin obligations.

Other public-input meetings are planned for other communities throughout the Gunnison Basin over the coming weeks. In addition, a public survey is available online, through the Upper Gunnison River District website — http://www.ugrwcd.org.

The roundtable is now moving into the stage of generating specific plans for meeting the identified needs and expressed goals. The roundtable meets the first Monday of every month, except for January, July and September, at 4 p.m. in the Holiday Inn Express in Montrose; the meetings are open to the public. The meeting on June 2 will precede a “State of the River” informational event held in conjunction with the Colorado River District at 7 p.m.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Northern Water board sets C-BT quota to 60% #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014
Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

Lake Granby spill June 2011 via USBR

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

Northern Water, which manages water stored throughout a massive system of linked reservoirs in Northern Colorado, set its annual water quota at 60 percent, despite customer requests to receive 70 percent of their full potential water allotment.

Since 1957, Northern Water has issued the water quotas, which dictate the amount of water from the Colorado-Big Thompson and Windy Gap projects that will flow to cities, industrial complexes and farmers in Northern Colorado. The city of Fort Collins typically gets half of its water from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, and has been particularly dependent on the system after High Park Fire debris polluted the Poudre River.

Fort Collins was among customers who lobbied Northern Water for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday, during a stakeholders meeting held to discuss this year’s quota. Despite those requests, Water Resources Manager Andy Pineda recommended that Northern Water’s board opt for a 60 percent quota.

A few factors went into Pineda’s recommendation, including Colorado’s above-average snowpack, high reservoir levels, and the general absence of drought in Northern Colorado. Spring runoff this year is expected to release an extra 100,000 acre feet of water down area streams and rivers, which should limit the region’s need for supplemental water from the Colorado-Big Thompson.

Pineda’s opinion was not shared by all. A few farmers asked the board for a 70-100 percent quota to help them plan for the growing season. Fort Collins wanted 70 percent to help offset troubles with Poudre River water quality. There is also a chance that Lake Granby reservoir will spill over this June, and a few stakeholders were concerned that water would be wasted with a reduced quota.

More Colorado-Big Thompson Project coverage here.


Southwestern Water Conservation District Annual Water Seminar recap #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

April 11, 2014

sanjuan

From the Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

With continuing population growth in Southwestern states and ongoing drought, water issues are becoming more and more about who has to cut back their use when there isn’t enough to meet demand.

That thread ran through presentations at the annual Water Seminar on April 4 in Durango, sponsored by the Southwest Water Conservation District.

“How will we handle the water and other needs of 10 million people,” asked John Stulp, a former state agriculture commissioner and current chair of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC) which is developing a State Water Plan along with nine basin water roundtables…

Harris cited a statewide statistic that with municipal water use, half is used inside and half outside. Ninety percent of the inside use returns to the stream. With outside use, 70 to 80 percent is “consumed” and does not return to the stream. The Southwest Roundtable has approved a goal to shift the percentage of municipal use to indoor, especially where the water comes from ag dry-up or trans-mountain diversion, he said.

Harris initiated the idea of legislation to limit lawn sizes in residential developments after 2016 where the water would come from a permanent transfer from ag. It didn’t get through the State Senate but will be a study topic by an interim committee on water resources during the off-session.

“The lawn bill, this is just the first time, not the last,” Harris asserted. “Reduction of lawn size is a significant conservation measure to help meet 2050 water supply.”

State Rep. Don Coram from Montrose commented “On the Front Range, they haven’t addressed storage or depleting the aquifer. They are more interested in trans-mountain diversion.”[...]

John McGlow from the Upper Colorado River Commission said curtailment such as this will affect water rights decreed after the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Upper Basin is western Colorado, eastern Utah, southwest Wyoming, and northwest New Mexico. They have begun discussions on how cutbacks would be shared, or how to avoid getting to that point with things like fallowing fields and reducing frequency of irrigation.

“Lake Powell is our bank account for complying with the compact,” he said. It’s the cushion for the Upper Basin states to deliver mandated quantities of water to the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada) and Mexico over a 10-year average. Navajo Reservoir also is part of that.

McGlow said 1999 was the last year that Powell was full. The goal is to get enough water into Lake Powell each year to avoid curtailment or the possibility of the water level getting too low for hydropower generation, which he said would have its own serious impacts.

The good news is there’s enough snowpack in northwest and north central Colorado that these won’t be issues this year, McGlow said…

Panelist Dan Birch from the Colorado River Conservation District said most pre-compact rights on the Western Slope are in the Grand Valley and Uncompaghre Valley. There is around 1 million AF of pre-compact irrigation on the West Slope, he said. Most of that land is in pasture or hay. Pasture can’t be fallowed, he said.

With a target to make up for 350,000 AF of post-compact use, Birch said, “I don’t think we want one-third of ag to go away. What we’re talking about is interruptible voluntary market-based contracts” for pre-compact users to reduce their water use. “This has to work for the farmers and the ditch companies,” he said.

Birch said power plants in Northwest Colorado are significant post-compact water users. “In the event of a (water) shortage, it will be important to keep critical uses going,” including power generation, he said.

Demand management is a key to avoiding Upper Basin curtailment or loss of hydro generation. “We are way behind on actual implementation of demand management,” including agricultural fallowing and reducing municipal demands, McGlow said. “It’s still a concept. It’s in its infancy.”

Fallowing and reduced irrigation are part of what’s called water banking. Panelist Aaron Derwingson said, “Pretty much everyone supports water banking in concept. It gets a lot more complex actually doing it.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” — Ken Neubecker #ColoradoRiver #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Blue River

Blue River

From the Summit Daily News (Alli Langley):

The Blue and the Snake are in trouble. These two Summit County rivers are part of the Upper Colorado River Basin, which was named the second most endangered river in the country Wednesday by American Rivers, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit focused on river advocacy.

“If you want to have healthy rivers and a recreational economy and agriculture on the West Slope, there really is nothing left to take,” said Ken Neubecker, associate director of the organization’s Colorado River project…

The nonprofit’s biggest fear is a new diversion, Neubecker said, because taking a lot of water out of the Colorado anywhere would have serious repercussions.

American Rivers and other conservation organizations say the Colorado Water Conservation Board, charged with creating the state water plan, should make sure it prioritizes river restoration and protection, increases water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns, improves agricultural practices and avoids new transmountain diversions.

Rivers on the Western Slope are already drained and damaged, Neubecker said. He called it wrong to divert more water instead of focusing on alternative methods to meet the gap between water supply and demand.

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

New supply development concepts via the Front Range roundtables

Right now, he said, details on a new diversion project have been vague, but Front Range proposals have considered developing the Yampa, Flaming Gorge and Gunnison and taking more water out of the Blue, Eagle, Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers…

The Colorado River and its headwaters are home to some endangered fish species. They support wildlife, agriculture and multi-billion dollar tourism industries.

And they provide some or all of the drinking water for the resort areas of Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Winter Park and Crested Butte and most of the urban Front Range.

To meet its customers’ water needs, Denver Water is focused on Gross Reservoir enlargements as well as conservation and forest health efforts, said CEO Jim Lochhead Thursday.

Colorado’s largest water provider has no current plans to construct a new transmountain diversion, he said, but the state as a whole should consider that option.

A new diversion is “probably inevitable at some point,” he said. “We want to do that in partnership with the West Slope.”

And after signing the Colorado River Cooperative Agreement last year, the utility has to.

The agreement does not allow future water development without the permission of all parties, including Western Slope representatives. Lochhead said, it “establishes a framework where we are really working together as partners instead of the old framework of East Slope versus West Slope.”

But the push is not coming from Denver Water.

“They’re really not the ones that are after a new diversion,” Neubecker said. “They got what they want.”

Pressure for more water from new or existing transmountain diversions comes mainly from north and south of Denver, the Arkansas and South Platte basins and especially Douglas County, he said. Those areas should look at conservation efforts more seriously, he said, and “pay attention to land use policies that basically encourage wasteful water use.”[...]

“We’ve got to start thinking about rivers as rivers” instead of engineering conduits for delivering water, Neubecker said, and “understand that we may think that growth should be infinite, but the resources like water that support the growth are not.”

From the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent (Mike McKibbin):

There is no more unclaimed water in the Colorado River Basin, so if the state’s population nearly doubles by 2050, as some have projected, the consequences for everyone along the river – including Rifle – could be dire. That was the message Louis Meyer, a civil engineer, president and CEO of SGM in Glenwood Springs, told City Council as he detailed the ongoing Colorado Water Plan process at an April 2 workshop…

Of the counties in the Colorado River basin, he noted, Garfield is projected to have the most growth, around 274 percent, or 119,900 people, by 2030.

“The Front Range is expected to have serious water shortages by 2020, unless they find more water,” he said. “They can’t take any more from agriculture on the Front Range, so they want a new supply from the Colorado River basin.”

“We have a target on our back,” Meyer continued. “But we have no more water to give.”

If every entity on the Front Range implemented some strict conservation measures, such as banning all new lawns and perhaps the removal of some existing lawns, Meyer said, the water gap could possibly be eliminated in coming years.

“But if we put that in the [water] plan, we need to do the same thing in our basin,” he added.

All storage water in Ruedi and Green Mountain reservoirs is allocated, along with nearly every other reservoir in the state, Meyer said.

Water quality issues are already becoming acute, Meyer said, because there is less water in the Colorado River.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


Four lessons for water-stressed regions, from the #ColoradoRiver — David Festa

April 11, 2014
Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

From the Environmental Defense Fund (David Festa):

Restoring rivers: Four steps to a pulse flow

Can the pulse flow be replicated to restore rivers in other water stressed regions around the world? With apologies to the importance of the nuances of international water-sharing agreements, here’s my shorthand of the steps needed to get a pulse flow.

First, find water. Anywhere irrigation is critical to food production, agriculture is responsible for 70% or more of withdrawals from rivers, streams and groundwater. As societies realize the value of conserving water, money can be made available to incentivize farmers and managers of irrigation infrastructure to improve, voluntarily, irrigation efficiency. In other words, with the right incentives, they can maintain or improve their food production using less water.

Second, find a way to buy some of the saved water. Farmers who save water through efficiency can choose what to do with the “saved” water. One choice is to sell or lease it to someone else, using the payments to help defray the cost of improving efficiency.

Third, particularly for rivers where flow is generated by melting mountain snowpack, find a way to mimic a spring flood. Water savings accrue over time so releasing water as efficiency measures are put into place would produce but a trickle at a time. The key is to store enough water to make a difference. In this instance, Minute 319 broke new ground in international water sharing by allowing Mexico to store up water in Lake Mead, a short drive from the famous Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas.

Finally, prepare the way. Starting several years ago, farmers and conservation advocates worked together in the Colorado River Delta to plant and irrigate several hundred acres of restored native habitat. The natural condition for the delta includes periods of drought and periods of floods (natural pulse flows). Therefore, the ecosystem has evolved to take advantage of this kind of wet/dry cycle. The problem is that with only a handful of exceptions, the delta has not been wet through and through since before the early 1960s! Much of the natural vegetation had long since died out.

The hope is that the pulse flow will act like a cardiac defibrillator and shock the system back into its routine, albeit for only a portion of the historic delta. But the restored connection between the Colorado River upstream and the Upper Gulf of California should be a boon to the hundreds of bird species that migrate the Pacific flyway. Of course for this to be truly successful, it will require more pulse flows (scientists think, about one every five years) and a small amount of steady water (called base flow) in between just to keep things damp.

A new foundation for stewardship

Thanks to the painstaking approach taken by the architects of Minute 319, there is a solid foundation for this new approach to stewardship of the Colorado River.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


Transmountain diversions: “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded” — Jay Winner #COWaterPlan

April 11, 2014
Twin Lakes collection system

Twin Lakes collection system

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co. took umbrage at the way working drafts of an upcoming state water plan viewed its future. A report prepared by the Interbasin Compact Committee uses an example of a way to create new supply, suggesting that Twin Lakes could cut back its diversions from the other side of the Continental Divide in drought years to aid the Western Slope. Trouble is, Twin Lakes has no plans to do that, said Kevin Lusk, who is president of the Twins Lakes company as a representative of Colorado Springs Utilities, the majority shareholder in Twin Lakes.

“In our discussions, we’re trying to keep what we’ve got, and we have no intentions of increasing the use,” Lusk told the Arkansas Basin Roundtable Wednesday.

Lusk asked for a retraction of the statement by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable and from the basin roundtable chairs. The document was discussed in a March 17 conference call among roundtable chairs and alluded to in an Aspen Daily News story. Several roundtable members questioned how the statement landed in the document, since it was not discussed at a meeting.

“It was cited as an example in the process as we move forward,” said Betty Konarski, chairwoman of the roundtable.

Lusk said the distribution of the information is detrimental to Twin Lakes. While there have been past discussions along the same lines, the company has never committed to changing its operations to accommodate the Western Slope.

“Twin Lakes is not considering a reduction of diversions. We haven’t agreed to do it or not to do it,” added Alan Ward, water resources manager for the Pueblo Board of Water Works, the second largest Twin Lakes shareholder. “We wouldn’t have a reason to give any of it up unless there was some benefit to us. It’s gravity-flow and inexpensive water for us.”

But a minority Twin Lakes shareholder, the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, said the company should be more open to actions that could have a statewide benefit. comments,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark district. “I think the Twin Lakes company needs to be more open-minded. It’s looking at what’s good for Colorado Springs Utilities, not the whole state.”

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


American Rivers names the Upper #ColoradoRiver the #2 most endangered for 2014 #COWaterPlan

April 10, 2014
Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From American Rivers:

Threat: Water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation

The Upper Colorado River and its tributaries include some of the most heavily degraded rivers and some of the last truly healthy rivers in the West. The rivers are critical to Colorado’s heritage; they are the life-line for much of the state’s fish and wildlife, they sustain a vibrant agricultural economy, and they provide world-class opportunities for fishing, paddling, and hiking. However, these renowned rivers are threatened by increasing water demands and new proposed water diversions. The Governor of Colorado must take a stand now and keep water flowing in the rivers by promoting responsible conservation measures in the Colorado Water Plan.

The River

The Colorado River Basin in the State of Colorado includes the mainstem Colorado River and headwater rivers, such as the Eagle, Roaring Fork, Blue, Yampa, White, and Gunnison. Gold medal trout fisheries, world class paddling, and glorious massive canyons can be found throughout this river system. The resort areas of Winter Park, Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat Springs, and Vail, as well as much of the urban Front Range (on the other side of the Continental Divide), all get some or all of their drinking water from these rivers. The Upper Colorado River Basin is home to 14 native fish species, including several fish listed as endangered.

The Threat

n 2013, American Rivers listed the Colorado River as #1 on our list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® due to the overarching concern of outdated water management throughout the entire basin. To begin addressing this concern in the Upper Basin, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has directed the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the first statewide Water Plan to determine how Colorado will meet its water needs in the future. With its population expected to double by 2050, Colorado must seize this opportunity to chart a more sustainable course for water management.

Approximately 80% of Colorado’s population lives on the Front Range in cities like Denver, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins, but 80% of Colorado’s snow and rain falls on the Western Slope, primarily within the Upper Colorado River Basin. The Front Range has long depended on “trans-mountain” projects that pump, pipe, and divert water over the Continental Divide from the Colorado River Basin for municipal use, lawn irrigation, and agriculture. These dams and diversions decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope. Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers further away, like the Yampa and Gunnison Rivers— rivers not yet impaired by trans-mountain diversions.

The Governor of Colorado and the Colorado Water Conservation Board cannot afford to fall back on outdated, expensive, and harmful water development schemes as acceptable solutions when they develop the water plan for Colorado’s future. Rivers are vitally important for Coloradans, and protecting and restoring rivers needs to be a top priority. If we want rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture, and a multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we must ensure they have enough water.

What Must Be Done

Colorado Basin Rivers have played an important role providing water for Front Range development, but many of the rivers are drained and have no more water to give. The Draft Colorado Water Plan is scheduled to be released in December 2014, and the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board must make the following common sense principles a core part of the plan:

  • Prioritize protecting healthy flowing rivers and restoring degraded ones
  • Increase water efficiency and conservation in cities and towns
  • Modernize agricultural practices and make it easier for irrigators— who now use more than 80% of Colorado’s water— to share water with urban areas in ways that both maintain valuable ranches and farms and keep rivers healthy
  • Avoid new major trans-mountain diversion projects so as not to further harm Upper Colorado rivers and the communities that depend upon them
  • Adopting these strategies will allow sustainable use of water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, without building costly, environmentally harmful, and ultimately ineffective projects on these cherished rivers. Greater cooperation, innovative technologies, and best practices will enable Colorado to build prosperous communities, support thriving agricultural and tourism industries, and keep our rivers healthy and flowing.

    Colorado’s Water Plan will influence water development and impacts to rivers in Colorado for decades to come. Taking additional water from the Upper Colorado River Basin, already over-taxed by existing water diversions, should not be an option and will be unnecessary if the Governor and Colorado Water Conservation Board adopt a sensible Water Plan.

    From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

    A nearby tributary of the Colorado, the White River, is No. 7 on the list because of the amount of energy exploration taking place along its length, American Rivers’ Director of the Colorado River Basin Program Matt Rice said Wednesday.

    #The threat of future trans-mountain diversion that would export water from the upper Colorado to the state’s Front Range is the reason the basin ranks high among the top 10 again in 2014. However, Rice said, it’s also the process already underway to establish a new water plan for Colorado that is putting the focus on the Colorado and Yampa rivers.

    #“We want to make sure common-sense principles are included and prioritized in Colorado’s new water plan. We want healthy rivers to be a core component,” Rice said. “And we want to make sure this plan doesn’t support a new trans-basin project. That’s why it’s No. 2 on our list this year.”

    #Steamboat resident Ken Vertrees is uniquely situated in the ongoing discussions about the future of the Yampa as it fits into the Upper Colorado Basin and the water needs of all of Colorado. He sits on the combined Yampa, White, Green river basin roundtable that was tasked by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May 2013 with coming up with a water plan for this basin that will be incorporated into a statewide draft plan in December 2014 and ultimately into the finalized Colorado Water Plan due to be completed no later than Dec. 10, 2015.

    #In addition, Vertrees sits on the board of the Steamboat-based nonprofit, Friends of the Yampa, which is a partner with American Rivers on its 10 most endangered project. He said the rivers of the upper Colorado have in-basin needs of their own to meet before other basins come after their water.

    #“The state has a 20 percent gap in water supply going out to 2050. That’s the whole impetus for everything we’re doing right now,” he said.

    #Vertrees thinks there is potential for the people of the Yampa Basin to become a “complete loser” in the statewide planning process as water officials seek to close that gap either by redirecting water across the state or conserving, or both.

    #One presumption is that the Front Range, where 82 percent of the state’s population is located, will seek the last great trans-mountain diversion, with water now leaving the state in the Yampa, on its way to the Green and ultimately the Colorado, one of the primary targets.

    #The possibility of spending several billions of dollars to capture some of the water leaving Colorado in the Yampa and pumping it eastward across the Continental Divide to the Front Range surfaced in the middle of the past decade. But two proposals to do just that since have languished…

    Ultimately, Vertrees said, he’s hopeful that the state of Colorado as a whole will recognize the intrinsic value of the Yampa in its lower reaches as a wild desert river that supports a rare community of plants and animals.

    #“It’s a very scary time, in some ways, for our river and our basins,” Vertrees said. “Our non-consumptive water rights are critical to the health of the river. It maintains globally rare habitats and federally endangered fish that are found nowhere else. Isn’t that critical for us, as the state of Colorado, to protect forever?”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Northern Water hears from C-BT customers about this year’s quota #ColoradoRiver

    April 10, 2014
    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project via Northern Water

    From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

    City officials, farmers and industry representatives Wednesday urged the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District to significantly raise the amount of water the district allocates from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project this year…

    The meeting comes as Colorado-Big Thompson Project reservoirs contain an average amount of water. Officials say that water storage will swell with higher than average snowpack in the Colorado and South Platte river basins.

    Farmers such as Steve Shultz, who farms corn, sugar beets and other crops, advocated a 100-percent quota at Wednesday’s meeting. Shultz said he needed the added water to finish his crops later in the growing season when he runs out of other water supplies.
    “We still depend on that late season storage water,” he said.

    Beth Molenaar, water resources engineer for the city of Fort Collins, said the city would support a quota of at least 70 percent this year because it has received multiple requests from farmers to rent water. The city rented very little water to farmers last year because of shorter supply of water related to poor Cache la Poudre River water quality caused by fires. Fort Collins gets about half of its water from the Poudre River and the other half from the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

    From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

    Much to their relief, Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District officials aren’t in the same predicament now that they were a year ago. During presentations on Wednesday, Northern Water personnel — tasked with overseeing the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest water-supply project in the region — explained how they now have nearly enough water to meet full quotas for two years.

    Since the C-BT Project went into use in 1957, the Northern Water board has set a C-BT quota every April to balance how much water could be used through the upcoming growing season and how much water needed to stay in storage for future years. In nearly all years, the board can set a quota of 100 percent, although it rarely does, and still have some in storage for the next year.

    That wasn’t at all the case a year ago. Snowpack in the mountains and reservoirs were so low that a quota of 87 percent would have depleted everything in the C-BT system. It was only the second time in the 57-year history of the project that the board had been so limited in the quota it could set. The board last year settled on a 60 percent quota, falling short of the historic average of about a 70 percent quota.

    “The outlook is much brighter this year,” said Andy Pineda, water resources manager for Northern Water, referring to his numbers, some of which showed snowpack in the South Platte Basin, as of April 1, rivaling that of 2011 — one of the best snowpack years on record (although a sizeable chunk of that year’s historic snowpack came after April 1).

    As part of Wednesday’s meeting, C-BT shareholders and the public — about 225 people altogether — provided input as to what they think the quota should be set at this week. While good snowpack typically calls for a low C-BT quota (the C-BT was built to serve as a supplemental supply, with high quotas usually set in dry years, Northern Water officials stress) the majority of input from the crowd called for the typical 70 percent quota. Agricultural users said that while there’s plenty of snowmelt expected to fill their irrigation ditches this spring, they’d still like to see a higher quota set to make sure water is still available later on — especially if things turn dry in the middle of the growing season, in July or August.

    Water officials from the city of Fort Collins and other communities also asked for a 70 percent quota on Wednesday — not to meet their own needs, but because they’re getting a lot of inquiries from farmers in the region wanting to rent extra water this year. A number of city officials said in recent days they’re waiting to see where the quota is set before deciding how much water they’ll have to lease to farmers this year. Most cities leased little or no water to ag users last year, forcing some farmers to cut back on how much they planted.

    A 70 percent quota means that for every acre-foot of water a C-BT shareholder owns, they’ll get 70 percent of an acre-foot to use throughout the year. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.

    While cities and ag users were seeing eye-to-eye at this year’s water users meeting, it was a different story in 2013. Last year, farmers wanted a quota of 70 percent, stressing that with little snowpack in the mountains at the time, they would need the supplemental C-BT water to get them though the growing season. But cities, for the most part, wanted the quota set at 50-60 percent, worried about using too much water in storage last year, because of the shortages and uncertainty.

    A 10 percent difference in the C-BT water quota amounts to about 31,000 acre-feet of water — or about 10 billion gallons.

    More Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District coverage here.


    2014 Most Endangered Rivers from AmericanRivers.org #ColoradoRiver

    April 9, 2014
    American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers

    American Rivers 2014 Most Endangered Rivers

    Click here to go to the American Rivers website to view the list:

    1. San Joaquin River

    Outdated water management and excessive diversions leave the river dry in stretches, threatening water quality, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and leaving communities vulnerable in the face of drought.

    2. Upper Colorado River

    The river’s health, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and recreation are threatened by new proposed diversions and increasing water demands.

    3. Middle Mississippi River

    A proposed new levee would cut off the river from the floodplains that protects downstream communities from floodwaters and provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

    4. Gila River

    An unnecessary water diversion and pipeline would harm fish and wildlife, river health, and local economics dependent on outdoor recreation and tourism.

    5. San Francisquito Creek

    The 65-foot Searsville Dam blocks threatened steelhead from reaching habitat upstream, impairs water quality, and poses flooding risks for local communities.

    6. South Fork Edisto River

    Excessive agriculture withdrawals threaten the river’s health and downstream water users, including other farmers.

    7. White River (Colorado)

    15,000 proposed new oil and gas wells in the region threaten to ruin clean drinking water and fish and wildlife habitat.

    8. White River (Washington)

    Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations are often killed at the unsafe and outdated Buckley Dam.

    9. Haw River

    Drinking water and recreation areas for more than one million people are threated by polluted runoff and wastewater.

    10. Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers

    The Wild and Scenic rivers’ cold-water fisheries, scenery, and whitewater are threatened by industrialization that would bring huge mega-loads bound for Canadian tar sands onto narrow roads beside the rivers.

    From USA Today (Doyle Rice):

    The San Joaquin River in central California — one of the sources of San Francisco’s drinking water and an agricultural resource for the fertile San Joaquin Valley — is the nation’s “most endangered river,” according to a report from American Rivers…

    Other rivers on this year’s list include the Upper Colorado River system in Colorado; a stretch of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky; the Gila River in New Mexico and the San Francisquito Creek in California.

    Rounding out the Top 10 are the South Fork Edisto River in South Carolina; the White River in Colorado; the White River in Washington; the Haw River in North Carolina; and the Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers in Idaho.

    The list is not a series of the “worst” or most polluted rivers.

    Three factors govern the rivers’ selections, according to Irvin: “One is the significance of the river for human and natural communities,” he says. “The second is the magnitude of the threat for a particular river, while the third is a major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year.”

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Leia Larsen):

    The Upper Colorado’s primary threat is new transmountain diversions as the state’s metro population continues to grow.

    “Having tapped the headwaters of the Colorado mainstem, some Front Range water interests are currently considering diversions from rivers farther away, like the Yampa and Gunnison rivers — rivers not yet impaired by transmountain diversions,” the American Rivers report said…

    “The ‘America’s Most Endangered Rivers’ report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Ken Neubeck of American Rivers in a press release. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin.”

    From Aspen Public Radio (Marci Krinoven):

    A new list names the Upper Colorado River basin the second most endangered stretch of water in the country. The conservation group American Rivers released its annual “top-10” list Wednesday and local rivers like the Roaring Fork and Frying Pan are part of basin that’s threatened…

    Neubecker says Front Range communities are desperately looking for new water supplies and that could come from the upper Colorado and its tributaries. He says the listing raises public awareness.

    “There are an awful lot of people, especially on the Front Range, who have no idea where their water comes from. It’s getting better than it used to be. But, there are still a lot of people who don’t understand that every time they run their faucet, they’re draining the Colorado River system.”

    One other river in the state made the list: the White River in northwestern Colorado. According to the list, it’s main threat is oil and gas drilling.


    Aspinall Unit update: The Uncompahgre Water Users are calling for water #ColoradoRiver

    April 8, 2014
    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    Gunnison Tunnel via the National Park Service

    From email from Reclamation (Erik Knight):

    The Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association (UVWUA) will be diverting an additional 100 cfs through the Gunnison Tunnel tomorrow morning Tuesday, April 8th. At the same time, releases from Crystal Dam will also be increased by 100 cfs, from 750 cfs to 850 cfs. After this change, the total flow through the Gunnison Tunnel should be about 400 cfs, which should leave about 450 to 500 cfs in the Gunnison River downstream of the tunnel.


    The latest newsletter (The Current) from the Eagle River Watershed Council is hot off the presses

    April 8, 2014
    Eagle River Basin

    Eagle River Basin

    Click here to read the newsletter.

    More Eagle River Watershed coverage here.


    Colorado River District state of the river meetings scheduled #ColoradoRiver

    April 8, 2014
    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

    From email from the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

    Annual Colorado River District State of the River public information meetings:

    v Tues., May 6, Summit County State of the River meeting, co-sponsor: Blue River Watershed Group (more info TBD)

    v Tues., May 13, Grand County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Grand County Board of County Commissioners
    Mountain Parks Electric, 321 West Agate Avenue, Granby, CO, 6:00pm

    v Wed., May 14, Middle Colorado State River meeting; co-sponsor: Middle Colorado Watershed Council
    Garfield County Library, 815 Cooper Ave., Glenwood Springs, CO, 6:00pm

    v Thurs., May 15, Mesa County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Water Center at Colorado Mesa University
    Mesa County City Hall, 250 North 5th Street, Grand Junction, CO, 6:00pm

    v Mon., June 2, Gunnison County State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (more info TBD)

    v Eagle River Valley State of the River meeting; co-sponsor: Eagle River Water and Sanitation District (more info TBD)

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins” — Steve Acquafresca #COWaterPlan #ColoradoRiver

    April 7, 2014
    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer's office

    Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

    New transmountain diversions of water from the Colorado River Basin to the Front Range got a frosty reception from Grand Valley water users and residents Thursday.

    At certain times during the year, more water travels east through tunnels than flows downhill along the Western Slope, said Max Schmidt, general manager of the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, during a town hall meeting in Grand Junction City Hall on the development of a statewide water plan.

    “There’s nothing left to give,” Schmidt said to about 40 people gathered in the meeting sponsored by the Colorado River Basin roundtable and the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University.

    Grand Valley water users haven’t strayed from their original reaction to calls for a new transmountain diversion, said Larry Clever, general manager of the Ute Water Conservancy District, the largest supplier of water in the Grand Valley.

    “It’s going to be a fight” if a new transmountain diversion is proposed, Clever said. “If Lake Mead and Lake Powell spill over, then maybe, but until then, we fight.”

    State officials have said the statewide water plan, which is to be complete by December 2015, with a draft due to Gov. John Hickenlooper by this December, won’t include a transmountain diversion. The plan, however, is expected to outline the terms under which one might go forward.

    Comments in the town hall are to be reflected in a Colorado River Basin plan. It, along with other basin plans, are to be reflected in the statewide plan.

    The Colorado River Basin is already a donor basin unable to meet the demands that officials expect by 2050, Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said.

    “There is no additional water for additional support to other basins,” Acquafresca said.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    The City of Aspen has a long list of projects for the #ColoradoRiver Basin Implementation Plan #COWaterPlan

    April 7, 2014

    aspen
    From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

    Tall new dams in pristine spots on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Bigger dams on Lost Man and Lincoln creeks in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. A bigger reservoir at the city’s water plant. Water pumped up from deep underneath Aspen. Treated effluent pumped from the Aspen wastewater plant to the city golf course. Water left in the river instead of being diverted to the Wheeler irrigation ditch.

    These projects are all on a list that Mike McDill, the city of Aspen’s deputy director of utilities, wants included on a larger list of regional water projects now being compiled by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

    “If it is already on the list, at least people can’t say they didn’t know we were thinking about it,” McDill said…

    Over 500 “projects, policies and processes” are now on the Colorado roundtable’s draft priority list, including Aspen’s suggested projects. The list, which is part inventory, part to-do list, and part wish list, is to be winnowed down in the next two months by the roundtable.

    “Putting projects on the roundtable’s list is a good way to provoke conversation,” said Louis Meyer, a consulting engineer with SGM, who is leading the development of the Colorado roundtable’s basin plan. “It is also incumbent on us to show the state that we have a list of water needs.”[...]

    During recent public roundtable meetings, McDill has described Aspen’s list of projects in a calm and pragmatic matter, despite the scale of some of them.

    “Our concern is we have a lot of water in June and not so much water the rest of the year,” McDill said about the potential value of reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

    Today the city of Aspen diverts water from lower Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply, but it does not have any water storage capacity beyond the tiny Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the water plant, which can hold 14 acre-feet of water.

    If built someday as described by the city’s conditional water right, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, which is known as a stunningly beautiful location. A Maroon Creek reservoir would cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.

    The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft in a verdant valley. It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land.

    The city has renewed the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971 and is required to do so again in 2016, when it must show it is making progress toward building the reservoirs.

    “Aspen will build the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs if necessary and if in the best interest of citizens of the community,” city officials said in 2012…

    Also on Aspen’s list of potential projects is the enlargement of existing reservoirs, including Grizzly Reservoir and Leonard Thomas Reservoir…

    Grizzly Reservoir was built in the 1930s on upper Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., of which the city of Colorado Springs is now the majority owner. The reservoir holds about 570 acre-feet of water and primarily serves as the forebay to the tunnel that Twin Lakes uses to divert water under the Continental Divide…

    The smaller Lost Man Reservoir, also owned by Twin Lakes, backs up water on Lost Man Creek and then diverts it to Grizzly Reservoir…

    But Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., threw cold water this week on the idea of expanding either Grizzly or Lost Man reservoir.

    “Twin Lakes has no plans or interest in enlarging these facilities,” Lusk said via email. “Nor has anyone talked to us about these ideas.”[...]

    Also on the city’s list is expanding Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water plant above Aspen Valley Hospital so it can hold 25 acre-feet instead of 14 acre-feet…

    Another water project on the municipal list is to determine just how much water is under the city of Aspen, and whether it is suitable for drinking.

    In 2012 and 2013, the city drilled a water-well near Herron Park 1,520 feet underground in search of hot water it could use for geothermal energy.

    But in July 2013 the city announced that it did not find water hot enough to make electricity, but it did find a steady stream of clear water coming up out of the well at 29 pounds per square inch, about half of the water pressure in a normal household.

    “This summer, we’re putting a pump into the well to analyze the water and get some feel for the capacity of the aquifer,” McDill said.

    If it turns out there is still a lot of water 1,500 feet underground Aspen, the city may install a larger, permanent pump into its test well to create a back-up supply of water…

    The pump back project, which is well under way, will allow the city to reuse water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to supplement its irrigation water on the municipal golf course, and to provide irrigation and snowmaking water for other entities, including the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.

    “It is intended to keep more water in the Castle Creek by not diverting for the golf course,” McDill said.

    The source of the water is “treated municipal effluent” and pipes already have been installed from the sanitation plant, past the Burlingame neighborhood, and to a pond on the city golf course.

    The city is still seeking a water right for its pump back project from state water court, and has been working out agreements with a long list of opponents.

    The water is to be primarily used to irrigate 12.3 acres of landscaping along Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, according to documents in water court. It also could supplement irrigation on 131 acres of the Aspen golf course, 21 acres of land in the Burlingame project, and 80 acres of the Maroon Creek golf course.

    In all, 233 acres of land could receive water from the project and water could be used to make snow on as much as 156 acres of land at Buttermilk…

    The Fork is often below a flow level of 32 cfs, which is the minimum amount of water the CWCB has determined is necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Last year, the city entered into a short-term water [lease] with the CWCB to leave 6 cfs of water in the river instead of diverting the water into the Wheeler Ditch, which is located river-left just downstream of the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge. The water in the Wheeler Ditch is typically used by the city for landscaping and irrigation in various parts of central Aspen…

    The Colorado River basin roundtable is scheduled to next discuss its draft list of projects on Monday, April 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs community center.

    More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.


    Snowpack/runoff news: Roaring Fork watershed early April accumulations looking good #COdrought #COflood

    April 7, 2014


    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Will Grandbois):

    he state as a whole is roughly 115 percent of normal, with a sub-par winter in the southern mountains (including the Rio Grande, Dolores and San Juan drainages) bringing the average down somewhat. Snow telemetry (SNOTEL) data provided by the Roaring Fork Conservancy shows a snow-water equivalent of 126 percent of normal in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

    That’s the equivalent of about 20 inches of liquid water across the valley’s high country, well above peak snowpack in both 2012 and 2013, as well as the 30-year average for the region. It has been a good year for skiers, and it looks promising for healthy rivers and forests into the summer.

    April is a key month in forecasting the year’s stream flow. Often it represents the peak snowpack for the Water Year, which runs October through September. This trend has been subverted in recent years. Early melting in 2012 signaled the beginning of one of the worst fire years in memory, while late runoff in 2013 was a small salvation in an otherwise below average year…

    Dust storms, a frequent occurrence in recent years, also speed melting. The Colorado Dust-On-Snow Program recorded five such storms in the Rockies so far this year. That’s slightly less than 2012 and 2013, with a clean fall and an average March. April and May are big months for dust storms, so it’s too early to be sure how this year will compare on that metric.

    “We’re now entering the thick of it,” Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, told the Aspen Times. He called the most recent dust storm on April 1 “a significant event,” but added that subsequent weather will dictate how this dust will play out.

    So far, stream flows throughout the region are mostly above average. Discharge at Ruedi Reservoir has been set to 210 cubic feet per second, well over the 45-year average of 137 cfs. That might increase if snowpack continues to accumulate in coming weeks.

    Meanwhile, many eyes are on the snowpack and the potential runoff problems in the flood affected areas along the Front Range. Here’s an report from Ryan Maye Handy writing for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Here’s an excerpt:

    Since September 2013 flooding swept across the Front Range, communities from Colorado Springs to Glen Haven have been preparing for the spring runoff, which could dislodge leftover flood debris and further damage areas torn apart by fall floodwaters. In a year with above-average snowpack, everyone from federal government conservationists to mountain fire departments are bracing for the worst.

    But hydrologists and climatologists say there is no guarantee this year’s spring runoff will be as catastrophic as many anticipate. As with wildfire season, the intensity of spring runoff depends entirely on weather.

    “Not all runoff seasons are created equal,” said Nolan Doesken, the state’s climatologist. “Just because you have a certain amount of snow, doesn’t mean you have a certain flooding potential. It all comes down to how snow melts.”[...]

    Colorado hasn’t had this good of a snowpack — roughly 130 percent of normal — since 2011. Northern Colorado soils are still saturated after the fall floods; reservoirs are filled higher than normal, and rivers are running at twice or three times their average volume for early April.

    River communities like Drake, Glen Haven, and parts of Estes Park are still scrambling to remove flood debris from the Big Thompson River’s path.

    Since the September floods, places like Big Thompson Canyon have been in a race against time, trying to beat the arrival of spring runoff. The Colorado Department of Transportation hastily rebuilt the ravaged U.S. Highway 34, and has since been readying the canyon for snowmelt. Since January, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has poured all of its local energy into clearing debris or shoring up more than 44 weak points — or “exigent sites” — along the river…

    Treste Huse, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service, worries that runoff will move sediment left behind by the September floods, or possibly cause land and rock slides along highways. River channels changed after the floods, and Northern Colorado residents could see water and dirt being poured into new places this spring.

    But for Huse, like Doesken, this spring’s runoff potential depends on a few relatively unpredictable factors.

    “It’s going to be dependent on future snowfall, how high stream levels are during the snowmelt, freezing and thawing in the mountains, future rainfall and the timing, and whether the rain falls on the snowpack,” she said.

    The long and variable list of factors recently convinced Doesken that runoff might not be the catastrophe that everyone expects it to be. The state climatologist has changed his mind about this year’s snowmelt a few times–at first it wasn’t a big deal, then it was, and now the current weather pattern has him thinking Colorado could escape relatively unscathed.

    If Colorado has a consistently warm spring, then the snowpack will slowly melt over time, as it did in 2011. Come summer, there will be little left once the temperatures rapidly rise, Doesken said.

    On the other hand, a colder spring with a few lower-elevation snowstorms could create the opposite effect. Then, the snowpack would stay intact — even increase — until warmer temperatures suddenly hit, melting the snow rapidly. If Colorado gets a multi-day upslope winter storm that dumps moisture on the foothills, then Doesken says he will start to worry.

    “The longer you push the snowmelt to when it (summer) starts, the closer to midsummer you are, it’s going to be really interesting,” he said. “It will all unfold day by day, week by week, over the course of the next six to seven weeks.”


    Rifle: Design changes help cut construction estimates for new water treatment plant

    April 7, 2014

    riflegap
    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Mike McKibbin):

    The cost of Rifle’s new water treatment plant has been cut by $3 million, after some recent design changes. The city expects to put the project — funded by a $25 million loan — out to bid in early April and award a contract in June…

    The new plant will be located on city property along U.S. Highway 6. Work is expected to last up to two years…

    In a follow up interview on [March 21], Miller explained that the cost savings come in part from changing the design from concrete-lined sludge drying beds and gravity thickeners to clay-lined drying beds. That will save $2 million, he noted.

    “Clay is cheaper than concrete and we can have city crews do that work instead of the contractor,” Miller said.

    More than $1 million will be saved by renegotiating a contract with General Electric to defer a second stage membrane filtering system, he added…

    More Rifle coverage here.


    Monitoring the pulse of the #ColoradoRiver — National Geographic

    April 6, 2014
    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    Pulse flow tongue upstream of San Luis Rio Colorado

    From National Geographic (Sandra Postel):

    Now in its 14th day, the historic pulse flow coursing through the Colorado River Delta toward the sea is under the careful watch of dozens of scientists who fan out across the landscape to measure and track its vital signs – from flow rates and salinity levels to seed dispersal by native cottonwoods and willows.

    The goal is to learn as much as possible from this unique experiment in large-scale ecosystem restoration so that future pulse flows – designed to mimic the spring flood that naturally occurred before large dams and diversions were built – will deliver as many benefits to river health, habitat creation and local communities as possible.

    “This is a once in a career kind of thing,” said Karl Flessa, professor of geosciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Co-Chief Scientist of the monitoring team for Minute 319, the binational agreement signed in late 2012 that established the terms of the pulse flow.

    “Scientists all around the world are watching.”

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Southwestern Water Conservation District 32nd Annual Water Seminar recap #ColoradoRiver

    April 6, 2014

    southwesternwaterconservationdistrictmap

    From The Durango Herald (Sarah Mueller):

    Speakers addressed the controversial practice of transmountain diversions, which takes water from the Western Slope to the Front Range. The water crosses the Continental Divide.

    “Frankly, on the Front Range, they’re really not interested in depleting that aquifer; they’re more interested in the transmountain diversions,” Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose said. “They haven’t addressed the situations of storage; their answer is there’s more water on the Western Slope than they need.”

    Steve Harris, president of Harris Water Engineering, talked about the recent controversy over his idea of limiting lawn size in new suburban developments after 2016. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, drew fierce opposition from home builders and utility companies.

    “About half the people I talked to thought that was a great idea and the other half thought I was a demon,” he said. “In this state, I know what it’s like to get between people and grass.”

    Roberts rewrote the bill to call for a study of water conservation.

    Another bill floating through the General Assembly would require Colorado residents to purchase “WaterSense” fixtures, such as toilets, shower heads and faucets, after 2016.

    Coram said he opposed the bill because the products don’t save much water, and it’s impossible to enforce. WaterSense is a Environmental Protection Agency program labeling products as water-efficient…

    Kehmeier, speaking on the water banks panel, said he’s participated in an informal marketplace among local farmers with personal reservoirs where people could lease excess water…

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board also gave an update about creating the state’s water plan. Gov. John Hickenlooper directed the board last year to develop the plan. A draft plan is expected to go to Hickenlooper by the end of the year.

    More Southwestern Water Conservation District coverage <a href="


    Tough going for cattlemen in the dry southwestern part of the state #COdrought

    April 6, 2014

    From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

    “The folks on the west side of the county have been hurt worse than anyone else,” said Wayne Semler, the recently elected president of the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association who runs cattle and farms south of Bayfield. He has shrunk his herd between 25 and 30 percent in the last couple of years. “With no irrigation, water tables dropping and springs drying up, they’re really struggling.”

    The heavy rains last fall and a predicted El Niño weather pattern, which generally brings us moisture, may make this year a little better, he said.

    “Last year’s snow melted into the ground because it was so dry, so there was no runoff” he said. “This year, at least, the soil moisture’s a little higher.”

    Morley said rain this year is more critical than ever as the drought continues.

    “We’re all praying for rain,” she said. “Tell people we all need to pray for rain.”[...]

    Most cattle ranchers run cow/calf operations, where the calves are fattened up during the summer for market in the fall.

    Some ranchers feed the heifers, or mama cattle, on their own land all year long, grazing in the pasture for the summer, feeding them hay grown in their fields during the colder months.

    “We fed our cattle longer than normal,” Semler said about 2013. “And our hay last year, some fields we cut once, some none at all. We had a grasshopper problem, too.”

    Other ranchers, like Brice Lee, whose ranch is south of Hesperus, move them from private pastures in New Mexico, where they’ve wintered the heifers, to private pastures in Colorado for the summer.

    “Last year, we only got four days of water, when we normally get 30 to 40,” Lee said. “Most everybody’s had to adjust. We haven’t harvested hay in two years, and we haven’t had a lawn for several years because we didn’t want to waste the water.”

    Still others winter the cattle on their own land, moving them during the summer to pastures in the mountains where they have grazing permits on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land.

    More La Plata River coverage here.


    Middle Colorado Watershed Council: First Annual #ColoradoRiver Clean Up — South Canyon to Silt

    April 5, 2014
    New Castle back in the day via the Red Slipper Diary

    New Castle back in the day via the Red Slipper Diary

    Click here to read their April 2014 newsletter:

    We need Volunteers! The Council is hosting its first annual Colorado River cleanup and needs help picking up litter along the public riverbanks from South Canyon to Silt on Saturday, April 26, 2014. Many areas will be accessible to volunteers on foot, but boaters are especially encouraged to participate.

    The cleanup will be followed by a community barbecue and picnic for volunteers, with burgers and bratwursts and other fabulous food donated by local restaurants, starting at noon.

    Anyone can volunteer. Please let us know you’re coming so we can plan for food and drinks. Sign up in advance here. If you are able to bring a suitable raft or boat, tell us when you pre-register. We can work out shuttles and rides.

    Sign-in will start at 8:00 a.m. at Grand River Park (on the south side of the river) in New Castle. Walk or bike to the park if you live nearby — parking is limited.

    Volunteers should wear sturdy shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and work gloves, and bring drinking water.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Managing Lake Powell’s power pool, will it benefit from the current snowpack? #ColoradoRiver

    April 5, 2014
    Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo / Brad Udall

    Glen Canyon Dam — Photo / Brad Udall

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

    Federal officials fretted for a year that they might have to take action as the water level in Lake Powell fell perilously close to the point that Glen Canyon Dam couldn’t generate electricity. Those fears were staved off, but not eliminated, after a meeting on Friday that involved top officials from the Interior Department and Bureau of Reclamation, according to Colorado officials who attended the meeting.

    “They’ve been concerned since last year” when federal officials began modeling flows into Lake Powell and concluded that two dry years similar to 2012 and 2013 could threaten the intakes into the electricity-generating turbines, said Upper Colorado River Basin Commissioner John McClow on Wednesday.

    “They’re nervous now,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, “Six months ago, they were more nervous.”

    Snowpack of 110 percent of average or more so far this year in the Colorado mountains has alleviated much of the immediate concern, McClow said.

    “We’ve gotten a reprieve this year, but we’re still working” on plans that would forestall any need for federal involvement in river management beyond the bureau’s existing role, McClow said.

    What expanded federal involvement might mean is unclear, but Mesa County Commissioner Steve Acquafresca, who represents the county on the Colorado River Water Conservation District board, said it’s extensive.

    The issue isn’t whether the upper Colorado River is delivering enough water to meet the requirements of a 1922 compact among the seven basin states, but whether the water level in Powell is high enough to allow electricity generation.

    “They’re talking about taking over management of the river if the power intakes (in Lake Powell) start sucking air,” Acquafresca said. “They’re not going to let that happen. You can’t start to develop a vortex in the reservoir.”

    That vastly overstates the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Larry Walkoviak, director for the bureau’s upper Colorado region.

    “Each state has its own set of laws and we have to comport with those states’ water laws,” Walkoviak said. As the federal manager of the bureau’s dams and other facilities upstream from Glen Canyon, “I don’t have the authority to do something like that.”

    The secretary of the Interior is the water master for the river below Glen Canyon, he noted, but not above.

    Even at 39 percent full, the level of Lake Powell remains about 85 feet above the penstocks that feed the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, so it seems that for the coming summer and probably more, the issue of electricity generation is likely moot, Walkoviak said.

    Walkoviak was present at the meeting on Friday in Washington, D.C., that included Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior; Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science; McClow; Kuhn; and James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    Eklund, Kuhn and McClow all stressed the significance of Colorado officials having contingency plans for low water levels in Powell at the ready when they met with the federal officials.

    A three-party, state-developed contingency plan allayed much of the federal fear, McClow said.

    “The bureau has given us every indication that it intends to work with us,” Eklund said

    That plan calls for releasing more water than would otherwise be the case from the Aspinall Unit of dams on the Gunnison River, as well as Navajo Lake and Flaming Gorge; voluntary, compensated release of water rights by some users; and continued work to augment existing supplies.

    The plan includes provisions for endangered species and for recreation and other uses, McClow said.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here.


    Mountain system monitoring at Senator Beck Basin, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

    April 5, 2014

    Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies

    Senator Beck Basin via the National Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies


    Click here to read the abstract and access the report:

    A hydrologic modeling data set is presented for water years 2006 through 2012 from the Senator Beck Basin (SBB) study area. SBB is a high altitude, 291 ha catchment in southwest Colorado exhibiting a continental, radiation-driven, alpine snow climate. Elevations range from 3362 m at the SBB pour point to 4118 m. Two study plots provide hourly forcing data including precipitation, wind speed, air temperature and humidity, global solar radiation, downwelling thermal radiation, and pressure. Validation data include snow depth, reflected solar radiation, snow surface infrared temperature, soil moisture, temperatures and heat flux, and stream discharge. Snow water equivalence and other snowpack properties are captured in snowpack profiles. An example of snow cover model testing using SBB data is discussed. Serially complete data sets are published including both measured data as well as alternative, corrected data and, in conjunction with validation data, expand the physiographic scope of published mountain system hydrologic data sets in support of advancements in snow hydrology modeling and understanding.


    Radiometer near Mancos used to forecast cloud-seeding potential

    April 5, 2014
    Calibrating the radiometer via The Durango Herald

    Calibrating the radiometer via The Durango Herald

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    On Monday meteorologist, Marta Nelson, installed a temporary radiometer at Jackson Lake near the Mancos Water Conservancy District. The instrument is able to determine the best combination of water content in clouds and temperature to use a cloud-seeding generator.

    Cloud-seeding generators throw up silver iodide into the atmosphere to harvest the extra water because snow will form around it.

    “We can see relative humidity and vapor and the potential for a cloud to form. We can also see inside a cloud that’s already formed, so if we’re looking for liquid water versus ice that is frozen in the cloud the radiometer can tell the difference and help tell the cloud-seeding people when to run the generators or when it’s not going to do any good,” she said. Nelson works for Radiometrics Corp., based in Boulder, which installs similar machines all over the world.

    The new data also will help scientists decide if the local cloud-seeding generator at Spring Creek should be run later into the winter season, said Jeff Tilley, director of weather modification at the Desert Research Institute in Reno. The institute operates the local cloud-seeding generator remotely. The data collected over the next month will be applied to operations next winter because the Spring Creek generator is almost out of cloud-seeding solution, he said.

    The institute is collaborating with the Colorado Water Conservation Board on the project, and the board is paying the $8,500 to lease the radiometer for a month.

    Across the state, about $1 million is spent on cloud seeding, and about 65 percent of the funds are provided by local entities such as ski areas, water districts and towns. The other 35 percent of the funds are provided by state and other funding.

    The generator near Mancos has been in place for about five years, and in that time, there has been some benefit in the area, Tilley said.

    “The impression we have is that we have seen some difference,” he said.

    Cloud seeding is safe because silver iodide won’t break down in any way that’s harmful, Nelson said.

    More cloud-seeding coverage here. More San Juan River Basin coverage here.


    Roaring Fork Valley: Many eyes are on Tom Bailey’s court filing #ColoradoRiver

    April 5, 2014
    Roaring Fork River back in the day

    Roaring Fork River back in the day

    From the Aspen Daily News (Nelson Harvey):

    Residents of the agricultural bottomlands along Catherine’s Store Road east of Carbondale have been deluged with legal paperwork in recent weeks, as various parties respond to billionaire Tom Bailey’s attempts to clarify his water rights on an irrigation ditch there.

    Bailey, the founder of Janus Mutual Funds and a breeder of cutting horses at his Iron Rose Ranch near Carbondale, filed a so-called “quiet title” lawsuit against more than 60 of his neighbors last year attempting to clarify his right to about 5.7 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water on the Slough Ditch and Banning Lateral Ditch, enough to irrigate his 28-acre property several times over.

    Since then, both the homeowners association for the Roaring Fork Preserve subdivision (RFPHOA) and Henry Hite, a neighbor of Bailey’s and the owner of the nearby Dragonfly Ranch, have responded to Bailey’s claim with their own assertions of water ownership. The RFPHOA is claiming to own 5.54 cfs of water on the ditch, while Hite is laying claim to about 2.44 cfs.

    More water law coverage here.


    The Grand Foundation’s 2014 Annual Grant Cycle deadline is Thursday, May 1 #ColoradoRiver

    April 5, 2014
    Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

    Gore Canyon rafting via Blogspot.com

    From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

    The Grand Foundation announces its 2014 Annual Grant Cycle deadline as Thursday, May 1. Applications are available on the Grand Foundation’s website at http://www.grandfoundation.com. All 2013 grant recipients must have their 2013 Final Grant Reports submitted in order to be eligible for 2014 funding.

    If you have any questions or would like to become more involved with the Grand Foundation, contact Megan Ledin, Executive Director, at megan@grandfoundation.com or by calling 970-887-3111.


    More snow same adventure – Denver Water crews measure snowpack

    April 4, 2014

    Originally posted on Mile High Water Talk:

    Tracking snowpack is a vital part of managing Denver Water’s water supply. But, with sample sites in remote locations throughout our watersheds, this is no easy task.

    Take a journey with Jay Adams, from Denver Water’s Communications and Marketing Department, as he joins Denver Water crews to take on this adventurous mission.

    Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

    Per Olsson, Jones Pass caretaker; Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim Holinka, assistant district foreman on the Arrow snow course near Winter Park.

    What a difference a year makes in snowpack levels

    By Jay Adams

    It’s a trek not many people take, but one that provides critical information to more than 1 million people. The journey begins just below the Continental Divide in a Trooper Snow Cat. The ride leads up the side of a mountain, past a group of snowmobilers and two wandering moose. Onboard the Snow Cat heading into the forest are Denver Water employees Brian Clark, equipment operator; Tim…

    View original 467 more words


    NRCS: Lower #ColoradoRiver Water Supply Forecasts avaiable

    April 3, 2014

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