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.”

Future Lower Dolores management topic of meeting

David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.
David Robbins photo via Hill and Robbins P.C.

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Forty agriculture and political leaders and Robbins met Tuesday about issues on the Lower Dolores River that have made for rough water lately.

Forest Service and mostly BLM land below the dam are being considered for additional federal protection, including designating separate areas as the Dolores Canyon Wilderness Area and Dolores River National Conservation Area. The proposal in the form of a draft bill was released last month.

Feds control river

Other preservation measures are also on the horizon.

Struggling native fish in the shallows of the Lower Dolores could be listed under the Endangered Species list, which would trigger federal action. Sections of the river are poised to become a National Wild and Scenic River if Congress so desires. Or the area could be named a National Monument by President Barack Obama.

Local ag officials and water managers want to know how each of these scenarios could impact rights to water stored in McPhee Reservoir.

“A legal review can tell us what we are doing wrong, what we’re doing right, or if we should even do anything,” said Dolores County Commissioner Ernie Williams. “I believe some kind of action is needed to protect Dolores and Montezuma County water.”

Agriculture and water interests in Dolores and Montezuma County are negotiating with Robbins to conduct a legal analysis.

One key message is that agencies including the BLM, Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Bureau of Reclamation are mandated by Congress on how to manage lands.

Agencies have discretionary power on how to carry out Congressional direction. But limiting that power is possible through the carefully crafted laws drafted at the local level.

“We get mad at local fed officials for implementing laws we don’t agree with, but after all it is Congress who told them what the standards are they need to follow,” Robbins said. “I encourage all of you to find ways to pass a law that constrains the otherwise open discretion of federal officials to manage the federal lands and water running through them.”

Implied water rights

There has been much speculation on which special federal designation — a monument, an NCA, a Wilderness Area, a Wild and Scenic River, or an ESA listing for native fish, could force more water out of McPhee Reservoir.

According to Robbins, they all could, unless federal legislation passes that prohibits it for an area.

“Whenever the government reserves land for a purpose, there is potential for reserving sufficient water to fulfill that purpose whether or not water is mentioned in the withdrawal,” he said.

A Wild and Scenic River designation typically comes with a federally reserved water right.

A 108-mile section of the Dolores from McPhee Dam to Bedrock is considered “suitable” for Wild and Scenic. A draft NCA bill proposes to drop the suitability status as a compromise for prohibiting new dams or mining.

If one of the struggling native fish on the Dolores River is listed under the Endangered Species list, it triggers a recovery plan that could force more water downstream.

Another perplexing issue: Sections of the Dolores below a proposed NCA from the Bradfield Bridge to Bedrock are also eligible for Wild and Scenic. If they became designated, would McPhee Reservoir continue to a target for additional water?

Robbins has been successful drafting legislation on Sand Dunes National Park and the Rio Grande River that protects agricultural water rights along with native fish.

He said he’s willing to research the issues regarding the Lower Dolores River, and is expected to submit a bid for a review. A public meeting is planned once it is completed.

More Dolores River watershed coverage here and here.

Dolores River Restoration Partnership annual report

From Telluride Daily Planet (Stephen Elliott):

In a presentation to the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners at their meeting Wednesday, Nature Conservancy Southwest Colorado Project Director Peter Mueller updated the board on the work of the Dolores River Restoration Partnership, a private-public partnership that works to preserve the wildlife and ecology of the river that starts in the San Juan Mountains and runs to its confluence with the Colorado River near Moab…

In 2014, according to Mueller, the DRRP developed and approved a transition plan for long-term monitoring and maintenance of the river, which sets forth strategies for fundraising, communications, governance and physical conservation work needed to support the diversity and health of the Dolores River’s riparian corridor for the next five years.

The DRRP works to preserve the habitat surrounding the Dolores River, and it has done well at that in the six years since it started implementing its ecological goals. But that’s not all DRRP wants to accomplish, Mueller said…

A significant part of DRRP’s workforce comes from Conservation Corps crews, which are made up of young adults typically aged 18 to 24, “consistent with out commitment to the next generation of stewards,” according to the DRRP’s 2014 annual report.

In 2014, 49 members of those teams contributed a combined 13,400 hours of work restoring the Dolores River, including an average of 130 hours per person of training…

In addition to ecological and social goals, the DRRP 2014 annual report outlines the economic impact the partnership had on the local community. According to the report, the total amount of money that went into the local economy because of the group’s expenditures, job creation and partnerships was $1,182,800.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association awarded the DRRP the 2014 Colorado Collaboration Award at a ceremony in October, a state-wide award that goes to an organization that exemplifies collaboration between many different entities, and it comes with a $50,000 prize, which the DRRP says will be used to “support long-term stewardship of the Dolores River.”

At the time, Colorado Nonprofit Association President and CEO Renny Fagan applauded the DRRP for its success at bringing different groups together to work toward a common goal.

“The Dolores River Restoration Partnership is an outstanding example of how nonprofits, businesses and government agencies are working together,” Fagan said. “Collaborating isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of work and commitment, but when we get together and identify our common goals, we can accomplish remarkable things.”

More Dolores River watershed coverage here.