#ColoradoRiver: Southwestern Water Conservation District Water 101 session recap #COWaterPlan #COriver

From The Pine River Times (Carole McWilliams):

The nightmare scenario for West Slope water nerds is a “call” on the Colorado River, meaning that Colorado, Wyoming, and Northwest New Mexico are not delivering a legally required amount of water to California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

If or when that happens, some water users in the three Upper Basin states will have their water use curtailed so that the Lower Basin states get their share. Water banking as a concept being proposed on the West Slope to minimize curtailment and huge water fights between holders of pre-1922 water rights, which would not be curtailed, and holders of post-1922 rights that would be curtailed.

Durango water engineer Steve Harris spoke to this at the Sept. 25 Water 101 seminar in Bayfield.

The idea started in 2008 with the Southwest Colorado Water Conservation District and the Colorado River Conservation District. Those two entities cover the entire West Slope, Harris said. The idea of water banking is “to provide water for critical uses in cases of compact curtailment.”

West Slope agricultural water users would voluntarily and temporarily reduce their water use and be compensated for it. The water would go to Lake Powell to satisfy the legal requirement for the three Upper Basin states to deliver 7.5 million acre feet of water each year (averaged over 10 years for a total 75 million AF) to the four Lower Basin states and avert curtailment…

All this is dictated by a water compact signed in 1922. It committed 15 million AF per year divvied up between the Upper and Lower Basin states. “Average flow now is around 13 million AF in the Colorado,” Harris said. The result has been continued draw-down of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Right now we are at around 90 million AF versus the 75 million AF over 10 years,” Harris said. If the amount delivered goes below the 10 year requirement, perfected water rights before 1922 would not be curtailed. Most of that is West Slope ag water.

About half of Bayfield’s and Durango’s municipal water is pre-1922 rights, he said. More than 90 percent of the 1-plus million AF of pre-1922 West Slope water is used to grow grass or alfalfa hay.

Post-1922 rights include area reservoir storage, water for coal-fired power plants, a lot of municipal and industrial water, and 98 percent of West Slope water diversions to Front Range urban areas. “So they would be curtailed. But that’s not going to happen,” Harris said, because Front Range residents aren’t going to have their water supply cut to grow hay.

“We want to set up a water bank so the pre-1922 users would set aside water for the post-1922 users. Otherwise, pre-1922 rights could be targeted for acquisition by post-1922 users,” he said.

Water banking is still an idea at this point. “We don’t know if the water bank will work,” Harris said. Two studies have been done, one is under way, and a fourth will be conducted by Colorado State University to look at the impacts on eight small farms of full irrigation, reduced irrigation, and no irrigation.

Harris said 50,000 to 200,000 AF of West Slope pre-1922 water might be able to go into a water bank, based on land that could be fallowed. But there is concern that some other senior water right holder could take the water before it gets to Lake Powell. Also, he said, “It’s very hard to measure water saved through fallowing. Every year is different.”

In contrast, there is an estimated 55,000 AF of critical post-1922 municipal and industrial use on the West Slope and 295,000 AF of critical diversions to the East Slope. “The amount of pre-compact water that might be available is much smaller than the demand,” Harris said. He cited another local issue: “If you don’t irrigate on Florida Mesa, people don’t have water wells.”

An assortment of water entities in the Colorado River Basin have contributed $11 million to do demand management pilot projects to get more water to Lake Powell. Durango applied to change their water billing to “social norming,” meaning how much water you use compared to your neighboors. Harris quipped that he’d pull the norm down because he made a show of removing his lawn back in the spring.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts also spoke at the seminar. “Even though we are a headwaters state, there’s a limited amount of water, and if the population is going to double by 2040 or 2050, where will the water come from? … Every direction from Colorado, there’s a neighboring state that has a legal right to some of our water.”

Eighty-seven percent of the state population lives between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and they like their Kentucky blue grass, she said, adding, “Kentucky is a much better place for it. … On the Front Range, all they care about is does the water come out when they turn on the tap.”

She noted the heated reaction to the bill she introduced in 2014 to limit the size of lawns in new residential developments that use water converted from ag, leaving the ag land dry. Harris initiated that idea. Roberts commented, “To feed their lawns, they need our water.”

As with population, 87 of 100 state legislators also live betwween Fort Collins and Pueblo, she said. “If they don’t come out here to know our world, they don’t appreciate why water is so important. … Water is our future.”

Roberts gave an update on the Colorado Water Plan, which is intended to address the projected gap between water demand and supply. Community meetings on the plan were held around the state last year and earlier this year. “The number one thing we heard was the need for storage,” Roberts said. “If we can’t capture and hold the water we have, we are hurting ourselves.” The next question is how to pay for storage projects. “That’s where the fighting begins,” she said.

The water plan needs more specifics on recommended actions, Roberts said. And after the Gold King spill of toxic mine waste, it needs something about water quality threats from abandoned mines.

The 470-plus page plan is being done by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and is supposed to be presented to the governor by Dec. 10. It’s available on-line at http://www.coloradowaterplan.com.

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

#ColoradoRiver: Reclamation Awards a $1 Million Contract to Upgrade Four Dolores Project Pumping Plants

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

The Bureau of Reclamation announced that it has awarded a $1 million contract to PAF Electrical, LLC, Oregon, on September 17 to replace nine existing variable frequency drives that will upgrade the Cahone, Dove Creek, Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants near Cortez, Colorado.

“Replacing the variable frequency drives will increase the energy conservation where there is a need to vary the flow in distribution systems,” said Western Colorado Area Manager Ed Warner. “The new frequency drives will lessen the mechanical and electrical stress on the motors, reduces maintenance and repair costs and extend the life of the motor.”

The Dolores Water Conservancy District provides seasonal irrigation and delivers vital water to Montezuma and Dolores Counties as part of the Dolores Project which is owned by Reclamation and operated by the District. The contract provides upgrades for four pumping plants by replacing the nine existing variable frequency drives with modern drives which provides more reliability with increased flow flexibility.

The Pleasant View and Ruin Canyon Pumping Plants currently use medium 2400 VAC drives and motors that require the use of old technology and are significantly aged. To support the change in pump operating voltage to 480 VAC at these pumping plants, the equipment at each plant will include a new section of 5 kilovolt metal-enclosed switchgear, a new station service transformer, as well as new a distribution switchboard. New 480 VAC inverter duty motors will replace the four 2400 VAC motors on the existing pumps at those two plants and provide one spare. These new motors will be a hollow shaft design.

The Cahone and Dove Creek Pumping Plants were originally constructed using 480 VAC drives and motors. The contract will replace the old 480 VAC variable frequency drives.

For more information about Dolores Project, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/projects/Project.jsp?proj_Name=Dolores+Project

County wins money for reservoir study — Montrose Daily Press

From the Montrose Daily Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Montrose County on Thursday nabbed a significant award from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which unanimously approved a combined total of $300,000.

The money from the state’s Water Supply Reserve Account will be used to help fund a feasibility study of up to four possible reservoir sites on the West End. The county will spend $966,000 on the study, which was included in its annual budget.

The conservation board, as part of its Montrose meeting, awarded approval of the funds on the condition that some of the money be spent to assess the effect each proposed site will have on recreational uses, especially rafting, on the San Miguel River.

The county is glad to comply with the condition, and would have noted that on its application had the form allowed for it, Marc Catlin, Montrose County’s water rights manager, told the board.

“If there’s going to be a future on the West End, those people are going to need water,” Catlin said.

The county needs to determine where and how reservoirs would be built to impound the water it secured under a 2012 water rights decree.

“It’s the result of two and a half years of hard work and paying attention to detail, wanting to do the right thing,” Montrose County Commissioner Ron Henderson said later on Thursday.

“It’s finally starting to pay off. It’s just a really nice thing for the West End of Montrose County, actually, the whole county, but most especially the West End.”

Montrose County in a controversial move previously filed for water rights on a 17.4 stretch of the San Miguel. Under settlements reached, the county agreed to a volumetric use limitation of 3,200 acre-feet. An acre-foot is roughly the amount of water it would take to cover a football field at a depth of 1 foot.

Conditions of the water right decree include a means of capturing and impounding the water. The county, which is considering four possible sites for a reservoir, needs to know the best place to site it and therefore applied for funding to offset feasibility study costs.

It sought $50,000 from the Southwest Water Board and $250,000 from statewide accounts, both to be approved by the conservation board.

April Montgomery, a conservation board member representing the San Juan and San Miguel basins, on Thursday commended the county and Catlin for having been proactive.

“I think it’s setting an example,” she said, referring to the county’s feasibility study. The county showed forethought in looking at multiple uses, Montgomery said.

Fellow member Patricia Wells, representing the City and County of Denver, called Montrose County’s approach commendable.

“It’s simply a very good approach,” she said.

“Storage is part of the answer for the future,” Catlin later told the Daily Press. “The state’s moving toward multiple use. I think this is the first project that is investigating multi-use at the feasibility stage.

“It’s a good thing for the community.”

Ouray County also won funding, $50,000, from the board. The money will help fund the upper Uncompahgre Basin water supply protection and enhancement project.

A call on water in 2012 served as a wakeup call, Ouray County Attorney Marti Whitmore told the board. That dry year brought to the forefront the need to plan for accommodating needs, while also sustaining agriculture and tourism, industries that are part of Ouray County’s economic backbone, she indicated.

Whitmore said she anticipates that Ouray’s study will show a need for additional water storage.

The board awarded 15 Water Supply Reserve Account grants Thursday.

“We passed all the grant applications. There was about $5.5 million, total, in grant applications we approved,” said James Eklund, Colorado Water Conservation Board director.

CWCB hopes that its instream flow right on the Dolores River will keep fish species off the endangered list

From Western Resource Advocates (Rob Harris/Joan Clayburgh):

Yesterday afternoon the Colorado Water Conservation Board rendered a unanimous decision to seek a water right on the Dolores River to protect fish and wildlife, securing up to 900 cfs of water during spring peak flows, as well as essential winter base flows, on one reach in western Colorado’s Red Rock Country. This will help prevent three native fish in the Dolores River from becoming threatened or endangered species. The reach slated for the largest instream flow protection on the river to date is near the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway between Gateway and Uravan Colorado…

The Board heard testimony opposing this water right that asked for water for unspecified future urban or agricultural water demands. The Board determined these requests for withholding water from this instream flow water right were speculative and unfounded. Now the Board will approach the state water court to secure the water right and it appears at this time that it should be a straightforward process.

Dolores Water Conservancy seeks mill levy — The Cortez Journal

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

From the Dolores Water Conservancy District via The Cortez Journal:

The Dolores Water Conservancy District board of directors is asking voters to set a permanent mill levy for the district.

Ballot question 4A will appear on the November general election ballot, and would authorize DWCD to fix its operating mill levy at the current 0.483 mills and retain any additional income it receives. DWCD operates McPhee Reservoir and the Dolores Project.

“We think of this as purely a housekeeping measure, but it requires voter approval because it deals with our mill levy rate,” said Bruce Smart, president of the Conservancy District Board.

“We’re spending more of our resources, and tapping reserve funds, to protect our water rights and meet legal and regulatory challenges while dealing with the challenges created by drought.”

The district is also responding to threats to McPhee Reservoir such as preventing an invasion of destructive mussels.

“The bottom line is we have a duty to protect the water, McPhee Reservoir and project facilities for our children and grandchildren,” Smart said.

DWCD manages the water assets of the Dolores Project covering a 440-square-mile area of farms and towns, including the Ute Mountain Ute tribe. Water stored in McPhee Reservoir is relied on for drinking water by the communities of Cortez, Dove Creek, and Towaoc. And the Montezuma Valley Irrigation District stores water in McPhee that is delivered to 1,000 shareholders.

“Water from the Dolores Project is the lifeblood of our local economy – including agricultural and commercial businesses, and the residential growth of our communities,” said District Manager Mike Preston. “In our 28 years of managing the Dolores Project, we’ve seen an increasing need to protect existing water rights and water supplies while making long term investments to keep Dolores Project facilities in good condition. Addressing these needs has become increasingly critical and costly.”

Question 4A will be included in the general election ballot mailed to registered voters in Montezuma and Dolores counties by October 19, 2015.

The district has a long-term contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to operate and maintain the Dolores Project which moves an average of 240,000 acre feet of water per year through the reservoir. The Project facilities include McPhee Dam and Reservoir, the Dolores Tunnel, the Towaoc Highline Canal, the Dove Creek Canal, two hydropower plants, seven pumping plants and the control systems to run them all remotely. Directors on the seven-member board are appointed by the district judge.

Telluride: Workers installing pipe around Blue Lake

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

From The Watch (Stephen Elliott):

For years, Idarado, which owns much of the land and water rights in the upper basins around Blue Lake, and the town of Telluride have argued — occasionally in a courtroom — over water. Now, the two entities are working together to achieve the mutual benefit the pipeline project will bring.

“This project is necessary because it’s a historic pipeline that existed many, many years ago, installed by miners. Since it’s very old, and it’s in very extreme conditions in terms of climate and geology, it has sprung a lot of leaks,” Telluride Environmental and Engineering Division Manager Karen Guglielmone said. “Over the last several years, we’ve been in a bit of a drought and [the amount of water stored in Blue Lake] has dropped by many feet. It has become quite obvious that additional water from the next drainage is important to maintaining that water storage.”[…]

The new pipeline connects Lewis Lake and Blue Lake. Lewis Lake is at a slightly higher elevation than Blue Lake, which means gravity can facilitate the transfer of water from the higher lake to the lower. The water then is transported to the Bridal Veil Falls power station and eventually to the Pandora water treatment plant.

The vast majority of the new pipe, made of high-density polypropylene, is being installed on the flatter stretches between the two lakes by EarthTech West out of Norwood. The work to install the flatter, simpler sections of pipe has been moving relatively quickly in comparison to the highly technical — and laborious — work required in order to install the 160-foot section of pipe on the cliff.

That’s the job of Access in Motion, the rope access experts, a company based in Telluride and led by owner/contractor Juju Jullien. The crew, a half-dozen (depending on the day) expert welders and machine specialists used to dangling off the sides of cliffs and buildings, work six, 10-hour days while living at the camp, with two days off in between.

“You have to drive for almost an hour, and the road is very dangerous. Driving it after 10 hours of work on a daily basis is not something you want everyone to do, so the camp made sense,” Jullien said. “You can have the best technicians, but they also have to be mountain people, and people that can get along. Six 10-hour days at that altitude with heavy equipment… it’s fun and we love it, but it’s not a job that you start by running, because that job will outrun you.”

That sentiment, combined with the highly technical work involved with securing the steel pipe to the cliff, means it’s hard for Jullien to estimate when they might be done, though a natural deadline would be the first snowfall, which is fast approaching at 12,000 feet. Guglielmone said initial estimates were that the project would take between six and 10 weeks and would be completed by mid-September. Jullien’s team was not able to visit the site for the first time until July 13 due to late spring snow and rain.

To secure the pipe to the cliff, Jullien’s team will drill nine one-inch stainless rods 15 inches into the rock, seal them and then weld them to the pipe. Each anchor will be stress-tested at 8,000 pounds for five minutes before the pipe can be secured.

“It’s all custom work, hard to predict, and all on ropes,” Jullien said. “Each support for the pipe, they’re all different because the rock is not a concrete wall. You cannot have one design that you multiply. It’s a slow process.”

More important than the speed necessary to install the pipe before the winter snows arrive is safety, Jullien said.

“There’s a notion of distance and isolation up here,” he said. “A little accident up here is serious. If you’re in town, you’re next to the medical center. That’s easy.”

“As far as natural hazards like lightning, rain, snow, and cold [go], even the sun is a hazard at 12,000 feet,” Jullien continued.

To manage safety concerns at the site, the Access in Motion and EarthTech West teams have a joint safety meeting each morning. Additionally, Jullien said, his team’s experience working in the oil and gas industry, where safety regulations are incredibly thorough, means they are taking even more safety precautions than prescribed by their own industry regulations.

“It’s a very industrial approach to safety,” Jullien said.

“You can’t have any failure. That’s what we’ve learned on the big fields.”

Because the project is mostly on Idarado’s land and is overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, San Miguel County has limited oversight of the project. But, the county gave Idarado development permits and county staff visited the site.

“In general the county supports clean energy, and we think the hydroelectric plant does that,” county planning director Mike Rozycki said. “We look at it as an essential regional facility.”
At the site, reminders of the miners who once inhabited the basin below Blue Lake remain, in the form of dilapidated wooden structures and rusted pipes half-buried in the ground. Those miners are ever-present in the minds of those who now inhabit the flat, grassy campsite.

“We’re surrounded by historical flumes, and when we have to work around them and are not allowed to move them, we respect that because we understand how long they took to build,” Jullien said. “I love to see those old pieces of steel.”

Guglielmone has a more practical respect for the memory of the miners. She said that the fact that they built the pipe in the first place is reason enough to reconstruct it.

“Think about the miners living in those kinds of conditions. Would they really have built it if they didn’t believe that water was necessary in Blue Lake?” she asked. “They weren’t frivolous. They didn’t build infrastructure unless they felt strongly that they needed it.”

Paradox Valley Unit: Earthquakes yes, but less saline water in the #ColoradoRiver

Here’s an in-depth report from Stephen Elliott writing for The Watch. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

Nestled in an unassuming corner of Paradox Valley along the banks of the muddy Dolores, the work done at the Paradox Valley Unit, a facility operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, has enormous implications for the water supply of major cities in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River, including Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

The project is also having a literal impact closer to home, in the form of seismic activity; since injection began at the site in 1991, seismic monitors have recorded around 6,000 “seismic events,” or earthquakes, within 16 kilometers of the injection well.

It is known beyond any reasonable doubt that the earthquakes are the result of the brine injections.

“The injection history and seismicity history correlate pretty well in both the spatial and temporal extent. It’s generally accepted that the seismic activities in Paradox Valley are induced by injection,” said Shemin Ge, a hydrogeology professor at the University of Colorado.
“Yes, we induce small earthquakes,” said Andy Nicholas, facility operations specialist at the Paradox Valley Unit. “They knew from the beginning that there was the likelihood to do that.”[…]

When it comes to water quality in the western U.S., the importance of the Paradox Valley Unit cannot be overstated. If the salt wasn’t extracted from beneath the Dolores in Paradox Valley, it would end up not only in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, but also in treatment facilities for major urban Lower Basin water-user cities.

At the Paradox Valley facility, extraction wells between 40 and 70 feet deep along the Dolores pull brine out of the groundwater beneath the river, process it and pump it three miles across the valley to the injection well. The injection well then shoots the brine more than 2.5 miles down into the Mississippian Leadville Formation, beneath the Paradox salt formation that serves as a barrier preventing the brine from ascending back upwards.

Prior to the Bureau of Reclamation’s extraction-and-injection process, which began in the early 1990s, the Dolores River picked up roughly 185,000 metric tons of salt each year as it flowed across Paradox Valley. (Unlike most river valleys, which are created by erosion, this one was formed by the collapse of a salt-cored geological fold, instead of the flow of a river. Indeed, paradoxically, the Dolores River cuts across this span instead of paralleling it, giving the Paradox Valley its name.)
Between 2008 and 2012, the average injection rate at the Paradox Valley Unit was 190 gallons of brine per minute. As of last month, the PVU well had injected just over two million tons of brine beneath the muddy Dolores riverbed during its 24 years of operation.

The total tonnage of salt removed from the Colorado River system by the PVU is impressive, but the significance of the facility depends on the valley’s status as a so-called point source of salinity. A majority of the salt that flows into the Colorado River system does so through non-point sources such as large agricultural areas, where a tract thousands of acres in size might contribute a relatively small amount of salt to the river. At Paradox Valley, however, all of the salt enters the river system in a comparably small area, and can be more easily extracted and quantified than at non-point sources.

At non-point sources — say, a large agricultural valley where irrigation runoff pushes salt into a river — the best the Bureau of Reclamation and its partner agencies can do is offer canal-lining projects, which prevent some salt in the soil from flowing with excess irrigation water into rivers, and provide education for farmers about more efficient irrigation practices.

At the PVU, on the other hand, the Bureau of Reclamation can physically extract salt from the groundwater and quantify it, making it the only such location in the Colorado River Basin where salinity control impacts are 100 percent known. (There is a point source of salinity near Glenwood Springs that is perhaps more significant than the one at Paradox Valley, but no salt extraction is done there.)

All told, 10 percent of the salt taken out of the entire Colorado River system by the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program is extracted at the Paradox Valley site.

“It’s the only place where we’re removing salt in a physically measurable way. We’re measuring the quantity of salt, so we’re certain that we got that pumped out of the river,” said Steve Miller, a water resource specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “[The PVU] gives us a chance to really grab a large amount of salt in a very controlled fashion. The project is really important to the Lower Basin [states], but not so important to Colorado. In terms of the total amount of salt reaching Lake Powell it’s very important, because in Paradox we can get a lot of salt out in one fell swoop.”